Southern Delaware is known for its scenic – and upscale – resorts where million dollar homes have become the norm, and where exclusive – and expensive – dining opportunities abound. Yet not quite 30 miles west of Lewes is a community that has been mired in poverty for decades, but it’s hidden behind cornfields and woods from busy Route 18.
An estimated 2,000 people call Coverdale Crossroads home. The unincorporated area just east of Bridgeville is familiar to the Delaware State Police, judging from a quick internet search that yields a list of recent drug busts and other crimes associated with the neighborhood.
Residents who live in a rural poverty area face some of the same issues as those in an urban community, such as unemployment, teen pregnancy, drugs, violence, and lack of education. But rural residents, like those in Coverdale Crossroads, have other barriers, including lack of public transportation and lack of easy access to grocery stores.
They live in food deserts.
The Food Bank of Delaware’s mobile pantry visits Coverdale Crossroads, and when the refrigerated truck sets up the pantry next to the Community Center, officers of the Coverdale Crossroads Community Council Inc. says they are grateful.
The mobile pantry, or food distribution site, offers pre-registered residents a 30-pound box of shelf-stable food plus an opportunity to select another 30-40 pounds of food that appeals to their families’ personal tastes. Often the options include fresh fruit and vegetables, commodities that are often out of reach for a financially struggling family.
“People who live in rural areas often face hunger at higher rates,” according to Feeding America, a national network of food banks, including the Food Bank of Delaware.
The challenges faced by residents of Coverdale Crossroads mirror those in other rural areas: the food desert situation, high rates of unemployment, and low-wage job opportunities.
Diane, the council’s vice president, said the organization strives to “help those in need,” and in addition to sponsoring the mobile pantry, the group also helps residents find education and employment opportunities.
“There are a lot of families living out here in mobile homes, some with three or four families,” she said.
Lack of transportation is a major problem here. The DART bus runs on Route 18, but that’s at least a mile or more away from the neighborhood, and the bus stops on the side of the highway. There’s no covered bus stop.
“A lot of people have no transportation,” said Paula, the council’s president. “There are people here with no food. If the Food Bank didn’t come, Coverdale Crossroads would be in trouble.”
Miranda, a Coverdale Crossroads resident, reiterates what Diane and Paula have said.
This mother of five has no car.
“I have no transportation. I could walk to the bus stop, but then you have to stand on the shoulder and wait for the bus. There’s a lot of beach traffic, and it’s really complicated to get anywhere,” she said.
Medical professionals also see problems associated with poor nutrition in their patients.
Lowell Scott, MD, a pediatrician with an office in Milton, says there is no easy answer.
“It is important to start the process of nutrition even before conception. Without the mother having adequate nutrition, the baby may be small or have developmental issues,” he said.
And even with education from WIC and SNAP programs, he sees parents making poor nutritional choices.
“I see this issue almost daily in my practice. There’s no clear-cut answer except to ensure the opportunity for parents to be able to purchase food in a safe environment and try to teach nutrition in the schools,” he said.
The impact of growing up in rural poverty has lifelong implications, according to the data from the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). Food insecurity in children is linked to developmental delays, obesity, behavioral problems, poor growth, and inappropriate feeding patterns.