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Makin’ Groceries in Lower Nine

To hear Sharon Litwin’s interview with Jenga Mwendo on WWNO-FM radio, click here.
Running out for a pint of milk is a pretty hard thing to do if you live in one of New Orleans’ “food deserts.” And forget about buying any fresh fruits or vegetables.That’s not going to happen if you live in the neighborhood below the Bywater.

But, now, seven years after Katrina, the folks in Lower Nine, tired of traveling nearly four miles into another parish to “make groceries” are organizing together and researching better options. They want to shop in their neighborhood and in their parish. And while that has historically meant going to a traditional grocery story, they’re flexible about even that.

“We could look at a food co-op, or healthy corner stores, even a mobile grocery store,” says Jenga Mwendo, food security coordinator with the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. Those ideas are the results of a series of meetings begun in April 2012 to allow the community to decide for itself what it wants in its neighborhood. Now, the recently-organized Lower Ninth Ward Food Access Coalition has decided on an action to demonstrate that they are serious. But, as with so many events undertaken by New Orleanians, this demonstration will be different.

No, it’s not going to be a march on City Hall. Rather, it’s going to be a huge, happy neighborhood gathering with a quirky, charming edge to it. How about a one-day pop up grocery store to celebrate National Food Day?

On Saturday, October 20, from noon to 4 p.m. in the parking lot of All Souls Church at the corner of St. Claude and Caffin avenues, the Food Access Coalition is going to set up a Grocery Store For-A-Day, complete with aisles dispensing fresh produce and dry goods. You can pick up a basket, walk through the aisles, and choose whatever you want. A cashier will check shoppers out and accept whatever donation they choose to give.

Like all such community events, there’s got to be food and music. The day will begin at 8 a.m. with a kids’ breakfast.There will be food vendors; health screenings by Tulane Medical Center; a children’s corner with books and activities, courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library; cooking demonstrations; and, of course, musical entertainment.

“The Grocery Store For-A-Day event is an action that can draw attention to our neighborhood,” Jenga says. “It can demonstrate the need for better food access and, we believe, get us one step closer to reaching our goal.”

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie.


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