Marchers push to turn Southeast DC food desert into oasis

At least 100 people marched through Southeast D.C. on Saturday, calling for more grocery stores in Ward 8.

WASHINGTON — At least 100 people marched through the streets of Southeast D.C. on Saturday, hoping to draw attention to the need for more grocery stores in Ward 8.

“It’s truly a food desert,” said Ward 8 Councilman Trayon White.

While the city has allocated $400,000 to help co-ops and grocery stores get a foothold in the ward, White said more needs to be done.

“From border to border, there’s only one full-service grocery store in Ward 8,” said Troy Prestwood, chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Comission 8A. “That’s a problem.”

Prestwood also said it’s an issue he’s been focused on for more than a decade, since he was in graduate school.

“I want better options, I want higher quality options,” he said. “I don’t care who brings it. It could be Giant, Safeway, Aldi; it doesn’t matter. We just want better options and higher quality options.”

Considering how many people live in the ward, and that a Giant grocery store on Alabama Avenue is the only full-service grocery store nearby, Prestwood said, “It makes absolutely no sense.”

Walking with Prestwood was Arnehl Lyon, the president of the Hillsdale Civic Association. She admits to doing her grocery shopping outside of her Ward, west of the Anacostia River.

“The produce is phenomenal there,” said Lyon. “The cashiers are very polite. I like it there. But having to go there twice a week just to get fresh produce? That’s not good that I have to do that. I’m a walker … and I don’t have any problem walking when it’s a reasonable distance to the grocery store.”

White hinted that progress is being made.

“We’re going to be opening up two new grocery stores in the ward in the next eight months,” he vowed.

He was only willing to name one: a Good Food Market, whose mission is to open stores in food deserts. There is another location in Northeast D.C.

But White says the city can and must do more to encourage grocers to do business in Ward 8.

If all goes as he hopes, in “two to three years from now we have great grocery options with healthy food, affordable food, healthy lives, more healthier diets, just people living longer in our community.”

“Bring ‘em,” said Prestwood. “We need more.”

Lyon agrees, though she worries that some developers will try to pair a grocery store with high rise apartments in a section of Anacostia where single-family homes already exist.

“I support the grocery store, but we have to be mindful of the community,” she said.

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