Convenience stores

Do convenience stores accepting food aid funds offer enough healthy choices?

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) – It’s a struggle for many Ohioans to put fresh food on the table, especially those who live in rural areas.

19 Surveys have revealed that gas stations and dollar stores are sometimes their only options.

We looked at what counts as healthy eating for people who depend on food stamps, by checking whether local stores accepting government cash stocks offer enough healthy options.

If you’ve ever wondered why that lonely banana is sitting all alone on a gas station counter, there’s a reason.

They can accept SNAP benefits, known as food stamps, and must meet certain requirements.

The USDA defines “staple foods” as staple foods that make up a significant portion of a person’s diet.

They do not include prepared foods or heated foods in this category.

The four basic food categories are:

  1. Fruits or vegetables (including canned)
  2. Meat, poultry or fish (including canned tuna)
  3. Dairy products (includes grated cheese)
  4. Breads or cereals

Stores must regularly stock at least three types of each staple food category in order to accept SNAP benefits.

19 Investigations have revealed that tater-tots are considered vegetables, after all they are part of the potato family – and beef jerky and chicken nuggets count as meat.

They might not be the healthiest options, but according to the USDA, they’re pretty good.

19 Investigators went undercover to check some stores accepting federal funding to see if they stocked enough of these necessary foods.

Experts said some stores barely met the requirements.

We checked three stores in Holmes County, where 11% of people are food insecure.

This included a specialty store, a gas station convenience store, and a health food store.

Every store we checked in Millersburg met the USDA guidelines we listed above.

We’ve found that finding fresh food isn’t a problem in Holmes County.

It’s different from some other rural areas, where people may have to drive more than 10 minutes to get to a grocery store or gas station for food.

This part of Appalachia is unique. It’s also Amish country, and it’s a big driver of the local economy.

The stores we checked into are essential for groceries, but they are also an important stopover for visitors.

Lavern Miller checks out produce at the store he owns in Millersburg, Trail Side Deli.(WIO)

One of the stores we stopped at was Trailside Deli.

“We have about 35 different kinds of meat and 35 different kinds of cheese.” said owner Lavern Miller.

Its cheeses are made locally in Amish country.

Miller knows his customers.

“Just meeting people and making friends is huge for us,” Miller said.

Whether they live here or are just passing through, they want fresh, healthy food.

It’s not hard for Miller to get to his store.

Some people drive for miles to shop here.

Trail Side Deli accepts food stamps.

People who depend on it can get more than just prepackaged canned food here.

“People come with it, we honor it, we help them with it. For me, it was important to serve those kinds of people,” Miller said.

Stores can make a lot of money if they accept food stamps.

But many advocates report that they don’t offer enough healthy choices.

A few years ago, Congress passed legislation to increase healthy food options for people who depend on food stamps.

But our national investigation team discovered that no changes had yet been implemented.

You can watch their story here.

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