This letter features reporting from "Many In Baltimore’s Struggling Cherry Hill Enclave Could Have Gone Hungry Amid COVID. But a Small Band of Neighborhood Activists Stepped Up." by Isabella Gomes

Dear Mayor Justin Elicker, 

One in eight American households is food insecure, and Black and Latinx households experience food insecurity at nearly double that rate. Historically, cities across the United States have cut off minority neighborhoods and neglected their need for sufficient access to healthy food options.

In an article published by The Baltimore Sun and the Pulitzer Center, “Many In Baltimore’s Struggling Cherry Hill Enclave Could Have Gone Hungry Amid COVID. But a Small Band of Neighborhood Activists Stepped Up,” Isabella Gomes describes one such neighborhood. Residents of Baltimore’s Cherry Hill, a historically Black neighborhood, live in what is considered a food desert. There isn’t a single grocery store on the community’s isolated peninsula. The lack of sufficient access to food is not just a coincidence, though it is a result of actions taken by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City in the 1940’s to establish the Cherry Hill housing project for Black veterans after white residents protested their immigration to nearby neighborhoods. According to former resident Michael Middleton, Cherry Hill was treated like “the armpit of the city,” experiencing all the negative impacts of urbanization. 

Like Baltimore, New Haven’s neighborhoods are defined by a history of racial segregation, namely redlining. Redlining originates from maps drawn by the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) between 1933 and 1940 that, largely grounded in racial makeup, defined neighborhoods based on their desirability. Redlining in New Haven resulted in a city that is still divided along racial and economic lines; compare HOLC redlining maps from the 1930s with New Haven’s low-income and low-access neighborhoods in the USDA’s online Food Access Research Atlas, and you will find that the borders look strikingly similar.

One of the divides that remain occurs between Prospect Street and Whitney Avenue, a block from my home near East Rock Park. Every morning on my way to school, I see the change from manicured lawns and full-height greenery to chain-link fences within the span of only a block. I watch as the fresh produce and staple food items at Nica’s and the Atticus Market, which I am sure you are familiar with, turn into the occasional sandwich at a corner or drug store in Newhallville. The stark differences in wealth and access to food in New Haven communities are not only visible on maps and in person, but in data too. In 2023, CARE and the New Haven Food Policy Council reported that 28% of New Haven’s Latinx residents live below the poverty line, and 38% receive food stamps compared to 19% and 14% of white residents, respectively.

In Cherry Hill, COVID-19 forced organizers and volunteers to scramble to distribute food to families in need, and I remember similar actions taken during the pandemic in New Haven, such as the distribution of hot meals at my former elementary school. However, measures like these are not preventative, and Cherry Hill residents like Eric Jackson realize that. Gomes’s article highlights how Jackson created an urban farm and food co-op, and wants to empower Black residents to engage in and control local food production.

Similarly, in 2020, New Haven received two grants: $500,000 for the Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (UAIP) Competitive Planning Grant, and $90,000 for the Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction (CCFWR) Projects. Your support for both grants was critical to instigating community-led and owned systems that will prevent food insecurity by producing and distributing food in low-access neighborhoods. We need to continue to push for change on other levels as well. Incentives must be established for grocery stores to be built within low-income neighborhoods, and funding for public transportation must be increased to allow other options for access to healthy food. I understand it takes time and effort to reverse a history of discriminatory systems, but your continued backing of these causes can help make sure that everyone has access to healthy food options for their families.


Yuki Heeger

Yuki Heeger is a junior at Hopkins School and lives in New Haven, Connecticut with her parents, younger sister, and two dogs. Seeing the convergence of cultural influences—like Yale University’s presence and a long history of immigration—in her hometown, Yuki became interested in the intersections of race, redlining, food deserts, and education. 

She heads Students United for Racial Equity (SURE) at her school, where she leads and participates in discussions about local and national issues. Yuki is organizing SURE’s annual music festival which celebrates food and music as integral forces in cultural identity. She volunteers at New Haven Reads, tutoring elementary school students in reading, and is involved in her school’s Diversity Board and Art Club.

Yuki loves to draw and paint and believes in the visual as a powerful tool for communication. She is also a dedicated cellist and enjoys playing music in a quartet, as Assistant Principal in the Greater New Haven Youth Orchestra, and with family and friends.

Read more winning entries from the 2023 Local Letters for Global Change contest!