Tens of millions of Americans live in food deserts, with limited access to fresh and healthy foods. And according to Feeding America, the pandemic has put millions more at risk of experiencing food insecurity.
Residents in one Oakland neighborhood have a convenient grocery store for the first time in four decades, and it became even more essential during the pandemic.
"It's got to be easy for them to get it, and the more effort there is and time involved in the shopping, the less fresh foods is going to be in that basket," said Brahm Ahmadi, the CEO of Community Foods Market.
While he'd never owned a grocery store, Ahmadi understood what the absence of one could mean for a community.
"Families were disproportionately suffering from diet-related chronic diseases, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease," said Ahmadi. "And then all the residual, other negative impacts that has. For example, family members are sick, they can't work, and then income is reduced."
After raising over several million dollars, Ahmadi's vision of a full-service market came to life one year ago.
"When the pandemic hit, I did still want to come to work because we need a store like this around," said employee Sharon Rance, who's worked at Community Foods Market since it opened.
"They were one of the stores that survived, they had the essential things we needed," said Eleanor, a local and regular customer.
But like the big grocery store chains, the independent market was not immune to the overwhelmed supply chain.
"I think the whole industry was kind of caught off guard, and then we were also blown away by how difficult it was to build back having product in the store," said Ahmadi.
He says changes in the industry are already happening, with manufacturers reducing the number of items they making to keep top-sellers consistently available.
Ahmadi knew the market would have to step up efforts to continue serving the already economically fragile community.
"To help them stretch their even more limited dollars to make ends meet," said Ahmadi.
With help from an emergency grant, they've been able to offer shoppers on food stamps a 50 percent discount on their entire purchase. They also began providing free delivery to seniors 65 and older.
The market has never been busier.
"My belief is this community deserves it, like any other neighborhood, and has the ability to support it," said Ahmadi.
By fulfilling this basic human necessity, Ahmadi believes they're laying a foundation to help residents prosper in other areas.