May 5, 2008

Addressing Issues of Access in Washington, DC

by Jody Tick, Harvest for Health Program Director.

When I first started at the Capital Area Food Bank almost two years ago, I was stunned (and continue to be) at the disparities between Wards east of the Anacostia River and the rest of the District. Especially stark is the lack of access to affordable, healthy foods in Wards 7 and 8 compared with Wards 2 and 3. According to DC Hunger Solutions’ 2006 "Healthy Food, Healthy Communities” report, there were only two major chain grocery stores east of the Anacostia River for 140,000 residents in Wards 7 and 8, but 1 store for every 11,881 residents in Wards 2 and 3. Although a Giant recently opened in Ward 8 after about a decade without a major chain grocery store, three stores is hardly sufficient to meet the need of the community and 1 grocery store for 47,000 residents pales in comparison with the District’s wealthier wards.

My questions are these: Why and how has this situation been allowed to develop and continue for so long, why aren’t more District residents aware of this situation, and what will it take to change the situation?

The Food Bank’s collective experience working in the east of the river community has shown that to change the current situation and increase community food security, all players have to make a commitment to make change a priority. This may sound rhetorical, but what I mean by this is that the community has to take ownership of its situation and want to change; the non-profit sector which provides services to the community has to collaborate to ensure that its programs are not duplicative and that they are making an impact by meeting the needs and wants of the community; and the District Government must make access to healthy foods a priority and provide support to agents of change to ensure lasting, sustainable solutions.

Jody Tick is the Harvest for Health Program Director at the Capital Area Food Bank. Harvest for Health seeks to facilitate access to affordable, healthy food; educate about the relationship between the food system, our environment, and social justice; and provide skill building opportunities for people to help themselves.

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