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Illinois Food Fund to help grocers expand in health-challenged communities

Loan applications are coming in for a pot of state money that would put grocery stores in underserved communities throughout Illinois.

Currently, the state of Illinois has $10 million for a Fresh Food Fund.

The money is supposed to help full-service grocery stores expand or build in places like food deserts where healthy food is scarce.

The loans are not meant for the Jewel-Osco and Dominick's of the grocer world but smaller or independent operations.

"The intent behind the Fresh Food Fund has always been to make our neighborhoods healthier in a self-sustaining way that also promotes economic development," said State Sen. Jacqueline Y. Collins. "While larger grocery stores are part of the solution, they aren't the answer for every neighborhood."

Collins said the Fresh Food Fund needs to include a variety of access points.

"Including smaller stores that are owned by local residents and employ people in the community, re-invest locally and stay in the community over the long term," she said. 

Trinita Logue is president of IFF, the community development financial institution administering the program.

"We feel that the projects we’ll be financing will be in higher need, harder to reach areas, where the markets may not be as robust but there very clearly are needs," Logue said.

She said the first loan should be out early next year.

Logue said the pot of funds should swell to $30 million to invest throughout the state.

Money is being raised from banks and foundations. The Illinois Fresh Food Fund is modeled after similar efforts in Pennsylvania and New York.

Grocers will also have to offer education to address healthy eating in the communities they serve.

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