Photo of Trayon White by Darrow Montgomery
Photo of Trayon White by Darrow Montgomery

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Beatrice Evans has called Ward 7 home for most of her life. Now in her sixties, she remembers a time when there were several nearby grocery stores to choose from—Giant, Safeway, and Murry’s. Of that trio, only the Safeway remains and it’s consistently scrutinized for its empty shelves and the poor quality of its food. Now Evans pays someone to drive her to Maryland to shop for produce and other groceries. 

“My mom is from the country, so I like my fresh fruits and vegetables,” Evans says. “That’s why I’m still pretty healthy today. To get that same quality I have to go outside of my neighborhood, but it should be right here.”

Ward 8 faces similar food access issues, which is why both wards are labeled food deserts. Ward 8 residents only have one Giant to shop at and with 47 percent of people in the ward lacking access to a personal vehicle, getting there to shop is challenging. 

To raise awareness and hopefully enact change, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White will walk alongside community members on Oct. 14 at what organizers have dubbed a “grocery walk.” Imagine roughly 500 people hoisting carrots above their heads and carrying heavy bags of groceries for two miles.

At 10 a.m., demonstrators will leave the Giant at 1535 Alabama Ave. SE and walk down Alabama Ave. to Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, then continue down MLK until they reach the United Black Fund building at 2500 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE. (Those who want to join the walk should meet at the Giant before 10 a.m.) Speakers, including White, speak at a rally in front of the building beginning around 11 a.m. Evans will be there passing out flyers.

“Our community needs more and better grocery store options,” White says. “We have to do more than talk, we have to walk the walk and put money and resources into grocery store development and accessibility for our neighborhood residents and families. Grocery stores and more community gardens are coming.” 

White says that with limited access to grocery stores and healthy food, his constituents face increased rates of obesity and diabetes, along with other chronic health conditions. In fact, people who live in Ward 8 are five times more likely to die from diabetes than people who live in Ward 3, according to the DC Department of Health’s Community Health Needs Assessment.

“The USDA considers our community residents east of the river to be ‘food insecure,’ which means residents are unable to provide adequate food for their households,” White says. “Ward 7 and 8 residents are forced to pay increased transit costs just to gain access to the supermarket. This is not a fair or equitable economic structure and we are hard at work at creating sustainable solutions to this issue.” 

The walk brings together Giant and community organizations like food access and education group DC Greens, Bread for the City, BYP100, the Capital Area Food Bank, DC Central Kitchen, DC Hunger Solutions, the Ward 8 Health Council, and the Health Alliance Network. 

DC Greens will host a meeting on Oct. 26 in Anacostia to encourage residents to call upon the DC Council and the DC Food Policy Council to make food access a priority in 2018. The organization’s executive director, Lauren Shweder Biel, wants fresh food to be considered a necessity, not a luxury. 

So does Evans. She looks at other wards in the city that have ample grocery stores. There’s a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Yes! Organic Market, and Streets Market and Cafe off the 14th Street Corridor, for example. “They have that in other neighborhoods,” Evans says. “We’d like to see the same thing in our neighborhoods. We want a variety of stores that stock fresher foods and vegetables.” 

At least one member of the D.C. Council agrees. “My long-term goal is to close the grocery store gap in the city and ensure health and food equity for all District residents,” White says. “This walk will allow our community to mobilize and strategize in taking action for food justice.”

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