By CAITLIN FAULDS Team / ecoRI News
PROVIDENCE A multimillion dollar loan was recently awarded to the Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) to improve the availability of healthy and affordable food in Central Falls, Pawtucket, and South Providence for years to come, according to a SLCT spokesperson.
SCLT received a $2.158 million loan from the Health Retail and Trade Fund, a fund managed by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC) that brings together investments from hospitals, health systems and institutions. The money will help fund SCLT’s new headquarters and Farm-to-Market Center in Trinity Square.
“It takes vision and creativity to make healthy food available in hard-to-find places,” SCLT CEO Margaret DeVoss said in an October 18 statement. And our health insurance partners, along with Health Retail and Trade Trust, are showing this kind of vision. Their investment today will improve health outcomes for many years to come.”
SCLT purchased the two-story, 12,000-square-foot property at 404 Broad Street in 2018 for $385,000. According to Jenny Boone, director of grants and communications at SCLT, the nonprofit is “nearing the end” of the GROW! Which was launched in 2018 to raise more than $5.4 million for the acquisition, renovation and expansion of programming.
Boone said that when the renovation work is complete – expected in the spring of 2022 – it will be a significant change from SCLT’s current headquarters, which is located in an old Victorian on Somerset Street five blocks away.
The new headquarters will host a cold storage warehouse that collects, sorts and stores farmers’ produce before selling it to wholesale buyers, a youth entrepreneurship center, a commercial kitchen, and three local “health food” businesses, according to Boone. . For now, she said, SCLT’s capacity is limited by a lack of production cold storage and a lack of dedicated programming space.
“This would just be a huge improvement, as the space was planned to accommodate our actual needs rather than having to accommodate the space,” Boone said. “We can’t wait to be ready.”
SCLT was founded in 1981 by a group of South Providence residents, Hmong refugees, and Brown University alumni who created the neighborhood’s first community park. The nonprofit continues to run a variety of programs to help low-income and desert neighborhoods grow and source sustainable, culturally friendly food products.
As part of its programs, SCLT currently leases land to 30 farmers in urban and rural areas and helps bring their products to market. The organization also owns, operates, or participates in more than 50 community parks in Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Cranston and East Providence.
The five- to seven-year flexible loan funds were committed by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and the Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, and interviewed by the Kresge Foundation, a Michigan-based social investor and donor. According to a statement from Aaron Seibert, managing director of the social investment practice at the Kresge Foundation, the funds aim to “address the primary factors that lead to unhealthy communities.”
“We know that healthy food is essential to good health, but a lot of people live in places where that food is hard to come by,” Seibert said.
The Health Retail and Trade Fund was launched by CLF and MHIC in 2018 to fill an “access to capital gap” for companies serving low-income communities and address the social determinants of health. SLCT is the fourth recipient of the loan and the first in Rhode Island.
“Small businesses serving low-income communities have been left to fend for themselves for far too long,” Daryl Brown, vice president and director of CLF Rhode Island, said in an October 18 statement. SCLT’s tireless work to provide healthy food to these neighborhoods is certainly a mission worth supporting. This investment will lead to healthier communities across Rhode Island.”