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How mapping technology drove the nation’s first nonprofit supermarket

Technically Philly

By: Juliana Reyes

The city of Chester hasn’t had a supermarket for more than ten years.

It’s what experts call a “food desert,” an area where there’s no place to get fresh food. Coupled with the the city’s poverty rate: 44.5 percent, it’s a bleak reality for Chester’s 33,000 residents.

That’s why Philabundance, a hunger nonprofit that serves the Delaware Valley, plans to launch the nation’s first nonprofit supermarket in the city this Saturday. The decision to open what the organization is calling Fare and Square in Chester was largely driven by mapping technology, said George Matsyik, Philabundance’s director of public policy.

The organization built maps using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the census to identify the “areas of greatest need,” Matysik said. After meeting with Congressman Bob Brady, who serves an area that was found, in 2010, to be among the hungriest in the country and helped raise money for the effort, Philabundance zeroed in on Chester.

See the map below.

A map created by Philabundance’s GIS staffer Phil Pierdomenico showing the food deserts in the region.

The 16,000 square foot store is housed in Chester’s last existing supermarket, which closed in 2001. It’ll be a membership-based supermarket, like a Sam’s Club, that will be open to anyone and offer cash back bonuses for those receiving food stamp benefits. Backed by the state, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and more, the $7 million effort will create more than 50 jobs for Chester residents, Matysik said.

Philabundance began using mapping technology, or GIS, as part of a partnership with Temple University in 2007. Currently, the organization only has one full-time GIS staffer, an Americorps VISTA named Phil Pierdomenico. GIS analysis has helped Philabundance gain a clearer picture of how hunger affects the region, Matysik said.

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