WILMINGTON—It’s a conversation that has been going on for quite a while now: When is an affordable grocery store coming downtown?
Local community members and organizations have banded together to bring the Northside Food Co-op one step closer to reality.
On Monday, Dec. 21, a pop-up lunch will be hosted by the Northside Food Co-op, along with organizations Feast Down East, Nourish NC, Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC, LINC Inc, Wilmington Compost Company, Willowdale Urban Farm and Catch Restaurant. Chef Keith Rhodes of Catch will serve homemade vegan jambalaya and bread for free.
Project manager Evan Folds said volunteers, staff and board members from the co-op will be greeting neighborhood residents. Partner organizations have provided materials to help with the food distribution taking place out of where the Northside Food Co-op Pilot Project, tentatively called “Frankie’s,” will be on Princess St. The pilot program basically will be a smaller store that is slated to open in April 2021.
“We will have various tables set up for neighborhood residents to complete our Community Input Form, purchase an ownership, and get information from our partner organizations,” Folds said.
“There is no better time to provide food resources to the community than the holiday season,” board president Cedric Harrison said in the co-op’s press release.
Harrison grew up on the Northside of downtown Wilmington and remembers having to go to nearby convenience stores to get eggs for his mom, according to his interview with Port City Daily during a September podcast. The last grocery store that operated in the area was A&P on Third St. 30 years ago.
“Today the closest place you can go is Dawson Street Food Lion — unless you want to take the back road and go out to Food Lion in Castle Hayne,” he said in the podcast.
That proves problematic for households that don’t have access to cars and may need something in a pinch.
Throughout the years, there have been failed attempts to bring a grocery store to the Northside. An independent group from 1996 didn’t see it through after collecting money from locals in the area, nor did the City of Wilmington, which intended to have one built there by 2005.
In 2017, a steering committee for the Northside Food Co-op launched. It became incorporated in 2020 with bylaws, and now has a nine-member board made up of civic leaders and members from local nonprofits and businesses, some even Northside neighbors: Harrison (Support the Port); secretary Jordyn Appel (Feast Down East); treasurer Genna Wirth (Voyage); Frankie Roberts (LINC, Inc.); Joe Conway (New Hanover Regional Medical Center director of health and equity); Joe Finley (CastleBranch); Keith Rhodes (Catch); Lauren Hurley (DREAMS Center for Arts and Education); and Scott Whisnant (New Hanover Regional Medical Center, government advocacy and community engagement).
The co-op has begun fundraising by asking for the community to purchase patron shares for $100, in turn giving them part ownership of the enterprise. Patrons will help guide the grocery store’s future decisions — like products that will be carried and standards of pricing — all determined by their votes. Patron members also will gain access to promotions and will be able to run for its board of directors.
Monies raised through patron shares will help build the co-op, with the goal for it to have neighborhood residents work there and guide its outreach, educating customers how to make healthier food choices. The outreach is part of the co-op’s efforts to eradicate the Northside as a food desert — which are traditionally defined as areas without access to affordable and healthy foods. According to the co-op’s mission, every patron share is a voice for food activism, helping sustain its grassroots efforts.
The community is welcome to learn more about the Northside Food Co-op by attending the pop-up lunch on Dec. 21, 11 a.m., 1019 Princess St. Chef Rhodes’ meal will be reserved for Northside residents only.
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