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Northeast Times | January 25, 2022

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Loan program increases access to fresh produce

Loan program increases access to fresh produce
PeopleFund offers reduced-rate loans and business education to individuals in underserved markets.

Calling all food retailers, food hubs, farmers markets, and mobile markets. The Fort Worth Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a partnership between the City of Fort Worth and PeopleFund, provides low-cost loans to open, renovate or expand mid-size and small food retail outlets in low- and moderate-income communities with few grocery options.

The program allows small-business owners to grow their business with low-interest rates and extended terms while improving the health of the community.

Modeled on successful programs in a handful of U.S. cities, HFFI is designed to improve Fort Worth’s public health as well as spur economic growth.

“This program is a proven, effective, sustainable solution to bringing nutritious foods and jobs into areas that need them the most,” said Mayor Betsy Price. “When we make healthy choices available to our residents and invest in the vitality of our neighborhoods, good things happen.”

PeopleFund is a community development financing institution offering reduced interest rate loans and business education to individuals in underserved markets. The HFFI program begins with $50,000 of public seed money to serve as an interest rate buydown for $500,000 in loans financed by PeopleFund, a nonprofit Texas lender.

Fort Worth HFFI is supported by the Tarrant County Food Policy Council, the American Heart Association, Tarrant County Public Health and Blue Zones Project, a community well-being improvement initiative led by Texas Health Resources.

“Evidence is mounting that access to healthy food reduces the risk of diet-related diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes,” said Matt Dufrene, vice president of Blue Zones Project, Fort Worth. “Through this program, we’re making it easier to bring healthy options to underserved communities while allowing Fort Worth residents to improve their well-being.”

Eligible projects include regional grocery chain locations or individual grocery retail outlets; convenience stores; farmers markets; mobile markets; caterers; restaurants; and food trucks. Proposals must demonstrate that the project is economically viable and will increase availability of fresh produce in areas that lack sufficient access to affordable, healthy food. Funding may be used for pre-development activities such as architectural and engineering work, site improvements, construction and renovations, equipment installation and upgrades, staff training, security, and inventory and working capital. Available loans range from $5,000 to $250,000.

“By financing projects with infrastructure costs and credit needs that are unmet by traditional financial tools, we can empower people to make healthy choices while also creating jobs and putting individuals on a path to financial stability and independence,” said Amber Kani, CEO of PeopleFund. “It’s a win-win for all of Fort Worth.”