Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Online Grocer Fresh Direct is expanding its delivery area to include all of the Bronx — and not just the more affluent parts. The company says it will also accept food stamps at a few select locations as part of a pilot program.
Fresh Direct said it was still working out the details of the food stamp program and couldn't say yet in what locations, the public benefit would be accepted. But the new expanded Bronx delivery area will begin on May 21.
The grocer had received criticism about its limited delivery area in its soon-to-be new home borough. The company is planning to relocate its facilities from Long Island City to Mott Haven in the Bronx, along some prime waterfront property, and will receive $128 million dollars in loans, grants, tax credits and other benefits for the move.
The company’s announcement on Friday is seen by some as a gesture to appease local opposition. But it wasn't enough for Bronx resident Kristin Hart of the Fort Independence Neighborhood Association. She believes the company's trucks will pollute the area and block water front access
"They took the easiest of all the things that people were discussing to address," said Hart. "The really core issue here is waterfront access to the people of the Bronx just like the waterfront access that the rest of the city enjoys."
The Bronx Chamber of Commerce supports Fresh Direct and said the company will create 1,000 jobs in a borough with high unemployment. Lenny Caro, president of the chamber, believed the company was doing its best to reach out to the community. "It's a way in the right direction to start to say, 'Bronx, we're here but we also want to be a part of your community and in order to do that we're willing to work with you,'" Caro said.
In a press release the company said it would spend $112 million to build its new headquarters and create hundreds of new constructions jobs in doing so.
"As we continue to grow and create jobs in New York City, we are thrilled that we are now able to serve the entire Bronx and provide residents there with convenient access to quality, fresh foods," wrote Jason Ackerman, CEO of Fresh Direct.
But there is skepticism over whether the jobs will materialize. "There is nothing guaranteeing anything. There's just proposals and vague promises," said Harry Bubbins of the South Bronx Unite Coalition, a group that started a campaign to boycott Fresh Direct. Bubbins complained that the public was never given a chance to weigh in on what would fill this waterfront space.