Lyft offers low-cost rides to Charlotte food pantries, grocery stores for families living in food deserts

Lyft offers low-cost rides to and from Charlotte food pantry

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Lyft has teamed up with a local food pantry chain to provide transportation for families living in food deserts in the Charlotte area.

Charlotte food pantry chain Loaves & Fishes announced a partnership with Lyft with a six-month pilot program to provide 75 Charlotte families living in food deserts with subsidized travel to and from grocery stores, farmers markets and food pantries.

The USDA defines food deserts as areas where about a third of the population lives more than one mile away from a supermarket. Many people in these neighborhoods also don’t have cars.

The Lyft Grocery Access Program teams Lyft, Loaves & Fishes and a group of community partners including the Food Policy Council, NC Alliance for Health, Second Harvest Food Bank, the City of Charlotte and UNCC, together to provide food insecure neighbors with greater access to healthy food.

Lyft has been trying this program out in 14 other cities, starting in Washington, D.C. from Jan.-June 2019. More than 400 families enrolled and took more than 5,000 rides to and from stores, so families were using it at least once a month. They chose to continue the service there.

Eligible residents living in the 28208 and 28216 zip codes in Charlotte and are burdened by a lack of transportation will receive $2 flat-rate fares on eight rides per month, or one round-trip ride per week, to and from designated grocery stores and food pantries during the pilot (Aug 2019 – Jan 2020).

Loaves & Fishes is a food pantry chain that provides a week’s worth of groceries to families going through a short-term crisis. Tina Postel, the executive director of Loaves & Fishes, says last year alone, their network fed almost 78,000 people.

“Hunger never takes a vacation so we have needs year round and especially this time of year. I mean, as families are needing to load up on school supplies – often it’s do I buy new backpacks or do I load the pantry this week? So we’re always accepting food donations from people in the community who would like to contribute,” Postel said.

Many families in Charlotte are able to drive their cars to and from the grocery stores, but Postel explains how that is not the case for many other families.

"For many people that’s not the case. And even though we have 36 Loaves and Fishes food pantries around the community, even transportation to and from is difficult. So that’s why we’re so excited to partner with Lyft on this new pilot study, Postel said.

Lauren Pelletier, a general manager at Lyft, says they have gotten a good response from families in the area since starting the program.

“Great response. In fact, we completed close to 60 rides last week, week 1 of the six-month program,” Pelletier said.

Pelletier says Lyft is excited to work with local partners to bring about change in Charlotte communities.

“We believe strongly in bringing positive change to the communities we serve. And excited to work with local partners to identify challenges that are specific to Charlotte and/or are felt across the country, where – again – we can play a role in coming up with those solutions and those tools to help residents,” Pelletier said.

Lyft officials say each family has access to four round trips per month, which is essentially one round trip per week. There is a $2 flat fare, up to a $10 ride.

Anything above that, the passenger would pick up, but officials say there are several options between both traditional food outlets as well as pantries and markets.

Postel says they are hoping that this pilot program continues for the long-term.

“Until the need is no longer there, we hope to keep this wonderful partnership with our friends at Lyft,” Postel said.

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