A collaborative effort to ease the food desert in the Russell neighborhood, Oasis, opened Thursday to much fanfare and a sour bite of lemon.
Oasis is a tiny store that has opened inside the Sisters Visitor Center at 2235 W. Market St. It’s a public-private collaboration between Buehler’s Cash Savers, Catholic Charities and Dare to Care Food Bank.
The store is open to everyone, and instead of just being the corner store, Oasis sells dry staples and healthy frozen food, such as frozen vegetables, at just slightly above wholesale.
Matt Dills, owner of Cash Savers and other small grocery stores in the area, said he got the idea when he was about to open a West End location and saw there was a small tent city of homeless people behind the store.
“No person, in my opinion, wants to live in a tent city behind a dumpster,” Dills said. “So my mind began to wonder, what can we do? How can eliminate some of these obstacles?”
Dills met with city and faith leaders around the community to find a way to help people in the Russell neighborhood.
“We saw the struggle,” said Dills, who grew up in Jasper, Ind. “You know, I was fortunate enough to grow up, and you know, I may have been hungry when my mom didn’t get home from work or something, but I never thought, ‘I’m not going to have any food to eat tonight.’ ”
Dills called the Russell neighborhood a “fresh desert” because options for fresh, healthy food are limited.
Oasis is not a full-service grocery. It’s just a small store to help fill in the gaps between Dare to Care’s food bank and the full-price grocery. By working with the Catholic Charities’ Common Table Culinary Arts Program directly across the street, the store has prepared rice and beans available free to anyone who is hungry.
“If you’re a small child and money’s tight,” Dills said, “you can get a free rice-and-bean meal so that you can study for that test, get good grades, get back on your feet. Go to that job interview, have some food in your belly. We want you to succeed.”
The store also has recipes available to go along with the offerings in the store, so that if a person doesn’t know what to do with the food they buy, they can get some culinary inspiration. The recipes are provided by the Common Table program.
“I think what was so exciting about this is it’s small and it’s simple,” Dills said. “We didn’t put a ton of bells and whistles on it so, you know, some people may be like, ‘It’s just a couple freezer doors.’ Sure, but it’s more because we’re trying to inspire people.”
Mayor Greg Fischer said that food deserts are a difficult problem because groceries are getting bigger and moving out of neighborhoods, but this project reflects the compassion of Louisville.
“That’s what our country needs right now,” Fischer said. “Seeing people coming together and saying if the federal government don’t care, we’re going to care, locally. We can look after each other. … don’t let people tell you that things are so bad. Go out and do something good!”
The grand opening ended with a Lemon Challenge, which encourages people to use lemons instead of table salt. The two have a similar flavor profile, but lemons are healthier. The challenge, which involved the politicians and community leaders present bitting into lemon slices, also aimed to bring awareness to the problems of hunger and food deserts.