food desert

Some DC Corner Stores Allowed to Accept Federal Vouchers

Effort aims to make it easier for families to get fresh food

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D.C. is making it easier on low-income families east of the Anacostia River to get fresh food in an effort to help families hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic who have little or no access to large grocery stores.

There are only three large, full-service grocery stores east of the river.

DC Central Kitchen CEO Mike Curtin has been working to bring healthier food options to low-income residents for years through its Healthy Corners program.

“As we stand here today in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, 11% of the area of our city has been declared by the USDA a food desert,” he said. “East of the Anacostia River here in Ward 7 and Ward 8 there are three grocery stores — one for every 50,000 residents. West of the Anacostia River there’s a grocery store for about every 5,000 D.C. residents. Something is tragically wrong.”

One of the obstacles low-income families face in buying fresh food is the ability to use federal vouchers — specifically the $9 million a year in U.S. Department of Agriculture Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits provided to about 15,000 D.C. families.

For thousands of families across the District, especially east of the river, corner stores are their only option for fresh food, and until now those federal vouchers were only accepted in larger chain grocery stores.

“Most residents that live in Wards 7 and 8 would have to walk at least a mile and a half to get to a grocery store,” Curtin said.

Now corner stores can accept WIC vouchers. A-1 Grocery Store owner Medina Yeneus said that’s not just good news for her customers.

“This program will help our business to grow,” she said.

In addition to A-1 Grocery in Northeast, Holiday Market and Stanton Supermarket in Southeast have been approved to accept WIC vouchers. Officials hope to expand that to more stores in the coming months.

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