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Giant Food Stores stepped up Saturday to offer free fresh produce to York City residents following a three-alarm fire that temporarily closed the largest full-service grocery store within city limits.

The grocery chain served a long line of city residents after The York Dispatch reported that Friday's fire at Yorktown Mall briefly worsened the food desert within the city's limits, said Ashley Flower, a spokeswoman for Giant.

"We knew we could do something and mobilize quickly and get our hands on some fresh produce to help meet the needs of the community," Flower said. "We wanted to do our part."

City officials said Friday the grocery damaged in the fire, CTown Supermarket, was expected to remain closed through the weekend for repairs and inspections. But CTown reopened its doors about 12:30 p.m. Saturday, said store manager Genesis Marquez.

"This morning we’ve had people coming by and even waiting until the health inspector came in and gave us the green light," she said.

It was one of nine businesses damaged in the three-alarm blaze, which caused an estimated $5 million in damage, said city spokesman Philip Given. 

CTown employees and even some customers worked all night to ensure it was open the next day.

"We are an army," Marquez said.

Oil-soaked rags in Panaderia Bakery spontaneously combusted and ignited the fire, investigators concluded. One man, the owner of Panaderia Bakery, was transported to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.

At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, about 50 people were at Giant's pop-up produce department, which was erected in the York Revolution parking lot on North Queen Street. Fruits and vegetables were distributed first come, first serve until stock was exhausted. 

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The brief closing of CTown again highlighted the lack of available sources of fresh food within York City limits, an issue officials have long sought to rectify. 

Multiple census tracts in the city are considered food deserts, said Craig Walt, the city's community health services supervisor. The lack of access to produce is harmful in more than just one regard.

"Food insecurity can cause a lot of stressors for a family, especially if they have to start prioritizing the use of what they do have available," Walt said, referencing the 35.8% of York City residents living in poverty. "There's also the health side of it, where obviously less healthy foods lead to a variety of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes."

The lack of fresh food access in the city is already on the city's radar, Walt said, as there are only a handful of markets, corner stores and food banks that offer fresh produce to the city's residents. 

Because CTown is the largest full-service grocery store in the city, employees were determined to reopen as quickly as possible for those who rely on the market. 

"We always have that pressure," Marquez said. "As humans, we do feel that responsibility."

The city has several initiatives in place to combat the lack of access to fresh food, including the Cornerstore Initiative, where the city partners with either existing or planned stores to supply technical assistance and equipment to promote the sales of fresh produce.

There is also the York Fresh Food Farms Mobile Market, which makes stops throughout the city to sell produce. Additionally, there are programs in which residents can obtain coupons for the market, and Rabbit Transit also offers free transportation to the local Giant Food Stores.

The city is now in the process of looking into state grant programs for grocery store development and to help smaller establishments provide fresh food to the city's residents, Walt said.

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