Future closing of lone grocery store creates food desert for St. Paul’s community

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The only grocery store in the St. Paul’s quadrant of Norfolk is closing its doors this week.

Residents are concerned about the impact it will have on the community.

According to city officials, they heard earlier this year that the Save-A-Lot off Church Street would close. Councilwoman Angelia Williams Graves says they weren’t given an exact date and started working with community partners to provide other options.

“It’s a devastating blow,” Williams Graves said about finding out just a couple of days ago that the store would permanently close this Saturday.

“I was disappointed but they’re a private business. They’re privately owned, privately held, privately run business. They were not obligated, it would’ve been nice, but they weren’t obligated to give the city any kind of notice,” she said.

Lavonne Pledger, who is a community activist and is on the St. Paul’s Advisory Council, says he’s concerned about how the vulnerable populations in his neighborhood, which includes a number of public housing communities, will be able to get food.

“This is a devastating blow for the community that surrounds this area. This is a predominately black community, mostly low-income residents. During a time during a pandemic and to have a store like this close, is going to be devastating for people that don’t have transportation or have to take buses,” he said. “Our seniors, who walk, whose only exercise is to walk to the store to get fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat, not being able to have that as a resource is going to cause a major concern among health options and general health for the community.”

Pledger, who is a personal trainer, says health and having healthy options is vital right now.

“Being able to choose what you eat impacts your lifestyle. It impacts, you know, your daily choices, your decision to being able to choose something healthy and what you buy and purchase instead of a handout or fast food or convenience store. It means a lot, especially during this time when everyone’s concerned about their health. We can’t let this continue,” he said.

Williams Graves says one of the issues they’re running into is the inability for residents to use the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) to purchase online groceries and have them delivered.

She believes this is an opportunity for people to step up to help whether its a church, a local entrepreneur or anyone with connections to other grocery stores that could fill the hole.

“I think that working with individuals and folks that want to provide transportation, we can work with them. If they want to provide transportation to and from grocery stores or churches that want to use their church vans to pick up four to five people, take them to the grocery stores, take them back to their residents but it’s going to take some work on USDA’s part for online delivery to be made possible. It’s like you have money but can’t use it in the most efficient manner,” she said.

The councilwoman says the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore is working with the USDA to be able to make that option available. She said the redevelopment of the St. Paul’s quadrant hopefully means this will be a short-term issue and that healthy food options will be more accessible in the future.

“It probably came at the worst time right now but it’ going to be a little bit of a hard time to getting folks what they need in the interim, but overall I think we’ll be able to do that,” she said about providing healthy options in the long term.

Pledger says he’ll do what he can to be a good neighbor to others who need help by offering transportation to local stores.

“I’m sure other residents don’t mind stepping up to that challenge. The best we can do is keep people engaged, keep being active, keep being vocal, keep voicing your concerns about what’s happening in our Black communities because this is something that can not continue to happen,” he said.

10 On Your Side reached out to Save-A-Lot for a comment but have not heard back.


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