Baltimore's Virtual Supermarket is up and running for the first time in about nine months under a retooled program that makes free the delivery of groceries in one of the city's food deserts.

The city relaunched the program this month with two sites in Cherry Hill. Neighbors may order groceries from the ShopRite of Glen Burnie and pick them up at the Cherry Hill branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and Cherry Hill Senior Manor apartments.

Laura Flamm, the city Health Department's Baltimarket and food access coordinator, said the program should help eliminate food deserts in Baltimore. The goal is to make healthy food available in low-income communities that lack a full-service grocery store nearby.

She said she hopes the program will expand to more sites in the coming months.

"We would love to be serving as many sites as possible," Flamm said.

The program was halted temporarily when Santoni's Super Market, which had provided the groceries, closed in the fall. The online service was first offered in March 2010.

Under the relaunched program, the delivery fee —typically $15 — is to be covered with grant money from the United Way of Central Maryland and the Walmart Foundation, Flamm said. The program costs about $150,000 a year to operate.

Customers don't have to pay for their food until it's delivered, which means they may use food stamps. Baltimore's Virtual Supermarket was the first in the country to accept food stamps for online grocery shopping and delivery.

Anyone may order and pick up groceries from the library, but only Senior Manor residents will be able to use that site, Flamm said.

Health Department workers and neighborhood food advocates will take orders on computers, Flamm said. They will also facilitate delivery and help figure out ways for the program to expand, she said.

The food advocates are trained individuals who are paid about $1,000 a year to help run the program.

People may place orders at the library from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays. Groceries are delivered to the library from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays.

Orders are accepted at Senior Manor from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays with delivery from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays.

Flamm said people also may order groceries using the Virtual Supermarket and ShopRite from Home website on any computer or smartphone. They may order anything in the brick-and-mortar ShopRite store, including non-food items such as toiletries.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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