May 28, 2008

Rebuilding Southeast

Will we ever see new life in Anacostia?*

One of the first posts we ever did was talking about the lack of grocery stores in Southeast, but I still don't think that we really nailed down exactly why this is such a huge problem. Joni from SOME warned that there are only three full-service grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8 (encompassing the neighborhoods across the Anacostia river), and Stacey (our Advocacy Director) estimated that it shakes out to a grocery store every 47,000 residents. This is compared to a grocery store every 11,000 people in Northwest.

Why is this such a big deal? A group of five George Washington University students did a study, talking with some of Bread for the City's clients about what their major concerns were. Time and again people said that they weren't able to get to a grocery store easily, and that once they did, often times the shelves were understocked. One person commented that it wasn't worth the trip around the 1st or 15th of the month because there wouldn't be any food. At least four people mentioned empty shelves at Safeway.

Ease of travel, as it turns out, is a really big deal. Have you ever tried taking all of your family's weekly groceries on a bus? It doesn't work all that great when you have a big family.

Instead of taking their chances with a long bus ride to a grocery store that might not have food, many residents decide to either go to the more expensive corner store or pick up fast food. Sharon Gruber, our nutrition consultant, just wrote about one of the many dangers of fast food portions (to say nothing of the nutritional value of those meals). It probably won't surprise you to learn that though there are only 3 grocery stores across the river, there are over 20 fast food and carry-out joints in Anacostia alone. The result? Low-income residents are spending more money for less healthy food, forcing higher obesity and diabetes rates in these communities.

A lack of infrastructure also means that these areas will stay low-income because no reasonable person with means would want to subject themselves to not having reliable access to resources. The number one indicator of neighborhood infrastructure is grocery stores, just as the number one indicator of poverty is lack of access to food. I'm very serious when I say stopping hereditary poverty in Southeast starts with solving access to grocery stores.

*Photo used courtesy of shawnblog.

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