By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
If a person resides in a food desert or does not have enough money to afford food, telling them that if they eat healthy, they will be healthy does nothing to address the source of their ill health. – Keisha Ray, PhD
Last week, City Council approved funding a food systems, education, and incubation hub project and a second initiative incentivizing corner stores to carry healthy prepared foods and fresh produce. In addition, next week, the council is expected to entertain a proposal to incentivize the development of a 10,000-square-foot full-service grocery near the site of the old Ed’s Market, an iconic black-owned neighborhood food store formerly located at Nebraska and Division.
Residents of The Brand Whitlock Homes, the McClinton Nunn Homes, or those who knew the late John Landry, who led Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority back in the day, still have fond memories of the shopping experience. Ed’s, also known as Division Market, had a vibrant meat counter, sold fresh produce, and always hired butchers and other help from the community. The bonus was that Ed and his wife Mary allowed some residents who struggled financially to buy groceries on credit, had all kinds of goodies for kids, and knew all the residents by name.
The $12 million project approved by City Council was primarily informed by the work of the Equitable Access Alliance of Toledo (E.A.A.T.). The United Pastors for Social Empowerment convened the Junction Coalition, Englewood, Center of Hope, Dorr Street Coalition, nonprofits, and state, county, and city representatives to reverse long-term disinvestment in communities of color. Last year the group asked the City to invest in the foundation and sustainability of making fresh food available to its residents by allocating resources from the American Rescue Plan and other federal dollars for an initial investment in a Grocery Fund.
Increasing healthy food access requires collective action that drives community re-investment. United Pastors for Social Empowerment (U.P.S.E.), The Equitable Access Alliance of Toledo (E.A.A.T. Coalition), and the Center of Hope have initiated policy work and community initiatives to address healthy food access in the Dorr, Englewood, and Junction neighborhoods since 2015.
Our initial focus addressed food deserts, understanding that lack of access to healthy food adversely impacts neighborhoods and residents in many interconnected ways, including public health, education, housing, and safety. Residents living in Lucas County’s food deserts have higher incidents of cardiovascular, obesity, diabetes, and other adverse health outcomes and die sooner than others.
E.A.T.T. and United Pastors have also advocated for creating a healthy food overlay district to incentivize grocery stores and restrict predatory discount retail chains, such as Dollar stores, that contribute to these disparities.
Research indicates that dollar stores funnel profits out of neighborhoods, contributing less to local economic development. The systemic causes of community divestment, unstable housing, and low wages also contribute to environments where dollar stores can thrive.
In addition, once a dollar store enters an under-resourced community, that area is more likely to remain without access to supermarkets than higher-resourced communities.
Building awareness of the issue is an integral part of creating change. That’s why we were honored to have the national media spotlight our efforts when the N.B.C. Nightly News’ Zinhle Essamuah came to Toledo to report on our work demonstrating how local communities across the United States are fighting back.
E.A.A.T.’s work has also been covered nationally by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a research and advocacy group, the Capital B, a Black-led local and national nonprofit news organization focused on centering Black communities, and the Ohio News Connection.
A webinar panel Fixing the Food Gap: Antitrust Action and Grassroots Solutions to Check Dollar Stores and Rebuild Local Grocery Stores, also featured our work. Alvara Bedoya, a member of the Federal Trade Commission, headlined the program discussion.
Yet, the issue is clear. The causes of food deserts in communities across the United States stem from one root: economic disinvestment in communities of color. The dollar stores are a prime example of the principle of disinvestment – the money they “invest” takes away more than it contributes.
Research shows that dollar stores pull sales away from local grocery stores in predominantly rural, low-income Black and Latino neighborhoods, leading some areas to food deserts.
In addition, Toledo Police Department crime statistics indicate that Dollar Stores in Toledo’s central City elevate crime in those neighborhoods. As a result, they experience staffing issues, often close early or open late, and have long lines at the register.
There have also been complaints of inaccurate registers that ring up different product pricing than that listed on the shelves.
Toledoans deserve access to the food and other products they need at affordable prices and to be treated with humanity and the dignity they deserve.
Our residents also deserve an opportunity to thrive by living in safe, affordable neighborhoods with choices and opportunities.
The question then becomes: Why isn’t this vital issue and work of more interest to people in our local community?
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org