The hundreds of residents and community leaders that trekked nearly two miles from a Congress Heights Giant to the nearest Metro station in Anacostia in last week’s “Grocery Walk” said they were not only looking to demonstrate the grocery gap in Wards 7 and 8, but were also marching towards a solution.
The marchers had a demand: More grocery stores for people.
A D.C. Hunger Solutions report reveals that about 70 percent of the city’s 49 grocery stores are in four wards that are predominantly white and have the highest household incomes in the city, while the 149,750 residents of Ward 7 and 8, which are majority Black and are amongst D.C.’s lowest earners, share just three grocery stores, with two and one, respectively.
Organizers urged the crowd to carry their momentum in the fight for what they called “food justice” beyond the march.
“When we leave this space, we need to continue to push for more opportunities on the east end of the river,” said Calvin Smith of the Ward 8 Health Council.
The D.C. Council has taken steps to alleviate the grocery gap, but advocates say these efforts have not resulted in any new grocery stores.
The FEED DC Act of 2010 sought to attract grocery stores to low-income areas in the city that would provide jobs and accept subsidized food benefits. But Wards 7 and 8 have collectively lost four grocery stores since 2010, while Ward 6, where there are 10 full service grocery stores for 82,000 residents, expect more to come in neighborhoods such as NoMa and Cleveland Park.
“The lack of grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8 is a racial equity and health issue that must be addressed,” said D.C. Hunger Solutions Executive Director Beverley Wheeler.
Democratic Council members Trayon White of Ward 8 and Vincent Gray of Ward 7 joined the walk and urged folks to keep working toward progress.
“Continuous action is what’s necessary,” Gray said. “We have to stick together and keep working.”
His office said the legislation he introduced in March that would require the development of a fund to cover construction costs for grocery stores in the two wards, in addition to the construction of a new hospital at the St. Elizabeths campus must be passed and funded before the proposed changes can be made.
The Council’s health committee, which Gray chairs, held a markup on the legislation and voted to forward it to the full the Council earlier this month.
But he says he has pressured current grocers to maintain high-quality products and services. His unannounced pop-up inspections of Ward 7 Safeway stores resulted in a “super cleaning” after the visits bought to light spoiled food items and other safety concerns.
“In [D.C.] we have a $13.5 billion-plus budget,” White said. “So it’s not about not having the resources, it’s about priority and vision.”
In the 2018 fiscal budget, the Council allocated $200,000 for nonprofit grocery stores, $200,000 to fund community grocery stores and $250,000 for a food incubator for Ward 8.
White said new grocery stores are a “time-sensitive matter” and he is working to identify grocers so that development can begin.
Two grocery stores are expected to come to Ward 8, one in Lower Anacostia on Good Hope Road SE and the other on South Capitol Street SW.
But some residents say they do not just want “any grocery store,” they want community grocery stores.
Clarice Manning of the Community Grocery Cooperative hopes the co-op founded by Ward 7 and 8 residents will find a home soon.
“Co-ops are all about us being in control of our resources and our food,” Manning said.
D.C. Greens, organizers of the march, will host a food justice teach-in at THEARC on Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m.