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Libraries are still good for something after all, but it’s not what you think.

Last month, Baltimore launched a program called the Virtual Supermarket Project where poorer citizens can pick up healthy foods at their local library. “Under [the] new city program, patrons can order groceries online and pay with cash, credit or food stamps. The orders are filled by Santoni's supermarket, a longtime Baltimore grocer. They deliver the items to the library the next day,” NPR reports. The program is being funded by a grant from the stimulus package.

The goal of the Virtual Supermarket Project is to “make healthy food accessible in communities where major supermarkets are scarce.” Not only will this turn libraries into a healthier version of the local corner store, but according to the Baltimore City Health Department, it will also save consumers time and money.

“We cover the delivery cost, which could be $15 or more per person, and we make sure that customers get all applicable sales that would be in the grocery store,” said Pooja Aggarwal, the program’s coordinator. “In general, the groceries are at supermarket label prices, which is cheaper than what you would find at the corner stores.” There are no restrictions on what customers can buy (unless of course they are using food stamps), but they are encouraged to take advantage of the healthy opportunities this arrangement provides.

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For now, the program is still in its beginning stages. There are just two libraries taking part and only a couple dozen people have signed up for the service. But already, officials are claiming that other cities are interested in pursuing the idea. And Aggarwal told us that there will be plenty of opportunities for expansion in the near future.

“The great thing about Baltimore is that there are library branches in virtually every single neighborhood in the city,” she said. So far, the libraries have seemed “pretty positive” about the program and Aggarwal is looking to involve other public venues like health clinics and elderly living facilities into the initiative.

While the community has much to gain from this effort, the libraries may benefit as well. “Libraries are constantly looking to increase their usage and maybe if people are coming in for another reason like groceries, they might also sign up for a library card,” Aggarwal said. If nothing else, the library is bound to have some better reads than the terrible collection of tabloids, thrillers and romance novels you usually find at the supermarket.

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