WEST GARFIELD PARK — A West Side collaborative has started a petition to buy a vacant West Garfield Park supermarket in hopes organizers can bring a new grocer to the area.
Aldi, 3835 W. Madison St., closed with little notice to residents in October, leaving residents with few to no options for buying fresh food. West Garfield Park now has only one other grocery store, a Save-A-Lot at 420 S. Pulaski Road.
The Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, a network of residents, businesses and neighborhood groups dedicated to building a community and culture that prioritizes health, is pushing the supermarket chain to sell the building to the community for $1.
The petition aims to “let Aldi know that they have not been good community partners, and we want them to do better and really make amends to the harm for what their callous action has caused,” said collaborative Director TJ Crawford.
Buying the building at a discount would make it easier for the community to find a corporate grocery partner that aligns with the needs of West Garfield Park, Crawford said.
“We want balanced corporate community partnerships. We understand that in a capitalist system, it’s usually profits over people. And for us, we want to make sure that people are valued at the very least at the same level as the profit margins, preferably people before profit,” Crawford said.
The petition also is a call to action for City Council and the Mayor’s Office to “lobby on behalf of the Garfield Park community” and create incentives needed to attract a “community-centered and committed grocer that will provide the fresh foods and produce that are necessary for community healing,” Crawford said.
The petition has more than 1,100 signatures so far. Organizers aim to reach at least 2,500. Supporters can sign the petition online.
The lack of fresh food in the neighborhood contributes to the massive health disparities West Garfield Park residents face, Crawford said.
West Garfield Park residents have an average life expectancy 16 years shorter than people living Downtown, according to a 2015 Virginia Commonwealth University report. That cap isn’t due to shortcomings in clinical care alone, the study showed: It is also due to social conditions, including disinvestment, segregation and a lack of grocery stores.
“The food you eat ties directly into your overall physical and mental health,” Crawford said. “Food impacts mood and behavior: how you process things, how you feel about yourself, feel about others and how you engage with one another.”
The sudden closure was especially harmful since the Aldi was a lifeline for many older people who lived at one of the four senior centers within a block of the supermarket.
“We’re talking about seniors. We’re talking about people with disabilities, people who don’t have the mobility to get out to Oak Park to get to a grocery store,” said May Henderson, a resident who runs a food distribution program for older people at New Mount Pilgrim Church.
An Aldi spokesperson said the West Garfield Park store was closed due to “consistently declining sales and the fact that we’ve operated this location at a loss for several years.”
But residents were outraged the store closed without any giving any notice to the people who patronized it for years. The Rite to Wellness Collaborative is building a corridor plan to address many of the issues that plague the business district along Madison Street, Crawford said. If Aldi had worked with local groups to open a dialogue about the struggling performance, the neighborhood could have worked together to find solutions to keep the store open, Crawford said.
“We know there were reasons why they did what they did. But they did not consider the community’s needs, nor the community’s role and ability to mitigate or address the issues they had in the neighborhood,” Crawford said.
New Mount Pilgrim and the Rite to Wellness Collaborative organized a series of emergency food distributions at the shuttered Aldi parking lot to make sure older people and other residents can still get fresh food despite the closure.
The food distributions are 9:30 a.m. until the food runs out on Dec. 4, Dec. 11 and Dec. 18.
Boxes of fresh food will also be given out 9:30 a.m. Friday at New Mount Pilgrim Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd.
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