Church St. Family Dollar fire highlights food desert in Norfolk neighborhood

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Family Dollar at 720 Church Street in Norfolk had been, for many, their only source of food in the community.

So when a Sept. 5 fire forced the store to close, a crisis situation due to limited food options became even more so, and turned it into even more of a food desert than it already was.

For those that live around the shopping center and do not have transportation, it was the only store they could walk to for groceries.

It’s what led the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore Tuesday to stage a second emergency food distribution outside the store.

Volunteers and Foodbank staff distributed boxes of shelf-stable food items, lean protein, and produce, each one containing approximately 35 pounds of food, and more than 540 families received free groceries.

“One of the things that happened in this community is the Family Dollar had a fire and was taken out of commission, and to be quite frank, it was one of the only food places to get food in the community, which means it was a crisis before it even burned down,” said Christopher Tan, CEO of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore. “We’re just happy as a Foodbank to provide some assistance, particularly during the holidays and get families the food they need.”

Emergency food distribution events are not factored into the Foodbank’s annual budget, so it relies upon community donations. Tan said that because of the Foodbank’s buying power, it’s able to purchase $60 of groceries for only $10.

“We will take everything,” Tan said. “We certainly are appreciative of everything. But monetary donations allow us to do more with our buying power.”

Norfolk Ward 4 Councilman-Elect John E. Paige helped with the food distribution. He said bringing shopping options to the area is a priority.

“We’re so grateful to the Foodbank for getting on top of this and doing what they can until we can get another store in here,” Paige told 10 On Your Side. “We need to come together and agree about what needs to be done. Something needs to happen.

“The Foodbank can’t continue to provide all of the food to this area. All of our citizens are equally important. This is the equity that we’re talking about in the city of Norfolk. I’m grateful for the Foodbank being here today. But we must figure out a way for our citizens to be fed every day.”

Learn more about, or donate to, the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.