A group of 75 people rallied Monday outside of East Baton Rouge Parish City Hall to push for funding in the 2018 budget that would offer incentives for grocery stores to open in Baton Rouge neighborhoods that lack access to fresh food.

The faith-based community organizing group Together Baton Rouge led the rally, with supporters toting signs reflecting Scripture saying "but let your yes be yes."

The crowd, which chanted "invest in us," plans to flood the Nov. 21 Metro Council meeting to press for funding in the 2018 budget to expand access to fresh foods.

Together Baton Rouge has asked the city-parish to allocate a steep $1.5 million in incentives for grocers to build in Baton Rouge's food deserts, where people live more than a mile away from a grocery store. They estimate 17-23 percent of Baton Rouge's population lives in a "grocery gap" where people are far away from fresh food and may lack the transportation they need to get to it.

Together Baton Rouge's idea for the incentives would put the money into the hands of grocers, as the nonprofit group says they do not accept public funds.

The three largest grocery gaps in Baton Rouge are in Scotlandville, Old South Baton Rouge and along the Florida Boulevard corridor, according to Together Baton Rouge.

At the rally Monday, Together Baton Rouge replayed video of a forum it held a year ago, before the elections for mayor-president and the East Baton Rouge Metro Council. At that event, now-Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said she would be willing to put up $1.5 million to attract grocers to underserved communities, saying "the grocery gap has gone on too long." Many council members agreed as well.

"It's time to transform that commitment into action," the Rev. Lee T. Wesley said at Monday's rally. Wesley is the pastor at Community Bible Baptist Church. "If not now, when? If not you, who?"

Together Baton Rouge also links Baton Rouge's high obesity rates to the lack of access to fresh, nutritious food. And the organization also notes that food at corner and convenience stores is usually more expensive than grocery store prices.

Broome pre-emptively issued a response Monday morning before the rally. She said she has met a number of times with Together Baton Rouge about the fresh foods initiative, and she hopes to find a public-private funding stream for it.

"In addition, I am not confined to Together Baton Rouge’s model of closing the grocery gap," Broome said in her statement Monday. "As mayor-president, I have been in contact with private enterprises inviting them to locate their stores in underserved communities. Those discussions are still in progress."

Broome has proposed a budget upward of $918 million for 2018, with 2 percent growth from the prior city-parish budget. Her office has deemed it "standstill," saying it is looking to capture efficiencies for additional funding in the future — like spending $260,000 on a pretrial jail diversion program for the mentally ill that it hopes can reap $800,000 in savings.

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​