May 1, 2008

East of the River and Hunting for Groceries

by Stacey Long, Advocacy and Community Lawyering Director.

I am what you might call a “foodie.” This means I love food and use as many opportunities as possible to be around food – especially free food. I moved here almost 6 years ago to work at Bread for the City’s new center on Good Hope Road, SE. As a newcomer (and a foodie), I spent a considerable amount of time shopping around for a good grocery store. This search gave me one of my first lessons about the divide between those who live West of the River and those living East of the River.

First I discovered Safeway, a pretty new grocery store that was a short walk from my apartment in Ward 7. It seemed to have everything I needed to stock up my apartment and feed myself when I didn’t feel like cooking after work. Then I discovered Giant Foods across the street from Bread for the City’s NW Center on 7th Street, NW. I noticed a difference between the Giant on P St., NW and the Safeway on Alabama Ave., SE: Giant had a luscious salad bar and Safeway did not. Oh well, I thought, I can make my own salad. I also noticed that the fruit, vegetables and meats were lesser quality in my local Ward 7 supermarket than the Ward 2 supermarket. Oh well, don’t make any assumptions, I thought to myself, maybe Safeway and Giant carry different items.

Soon, I overcame my fear of getting lost and drove to Virginia where I discovered Shoppers, Harris Teeters and COSTCO—what a lovely shopping experience! But what a hike just to have some variety.

In time, I learned that there was NO grocery store in the entire Ward 8. Pretty troubling for a foodie like myself.

I asked, “What’s going on here?” After several weeks of asking around, I pretty much heard the same two things: 1) There used to be a grocery store in Ward 8 but it shut down years and years ago and 2) They’re building a new store in Ward 8. But no one could tell me when.

And so from the summer of 2002 when I first moved here recently I “chose” to shop in VA, MD or in DC (West of the River). I recognize that I was “lucky” because I had a working car, gas money, friends who could take me to the store and if I was really motivated, I could even walk there from my house. But where does that leave the 71,000 people who lived in Ward 8 particularly those who don’t have a car, or transportation money or a support system to help them get there? Was it fair that they just relied upon the overpriced, limited selections found in the “convenience store.” The new Giant in Ward 8 finally opened in December 2007, but is that the only grocery store we’re going to see for a whole Ward?

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