Northside Food Co-op kicks off effort to bring grocery store to downtown Wilmington
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Big plans are taking shape in Wilmington’s Northside neighborhood to address food security, health and equity in the region.
Three years after community leaders met at the Foxes Boxes to brainstorm possible solutions, the Northside Food Co-op now has a board of directors, bylaws, and is in the process of selling shares to bring a community-funded grocery store to the region.
The Northside neighborhood was once saturated with successful restaurants, grocery stores and Black-owned businesses; but lately, it’s classified as a food desert. Residents haven’t had a neighborhood grocery store in more than 30 years.
In the past, organizations have tried to open a grocery store in the region, but none of them ever came to fruition.
“Empowerment through employment, empowerment through education, and empowerment through increasing people’s life expectancy are some of the biggest things on our to-do list with this Northside Food Co-op,” said board president Cedric Harrison.
Harrison grew up in Rankin Terrace and personally knows how difficult it is for many of the Northside’s residents to have access to groceries. For working parents or people who struggle with transportation barriers, their choice is either fast food or Family Dollar for meals.
“I’m one of those people that was on the fast-food and Family Dollar budget. My mom had two jobs and you got to figure out how to feed yourself. The easiest way as a child to feed yourself is Hot Pockets and oodles of noodles, you know,” said Harrison. “There is a lot of family tradition you have to break, generational things you have to break and with the Northside Food Co-op, we want to educate people around that.”
Harrison believes food is just one way to cultivate a change in culture and create a strong neighborhood identity amid the gentrification of downtown.
The grocery store coming in will not be your average big box grocery store: It’s a co-op that the community must buy into.
Leaders plan to employ workers from the Northside and use the co-op to teach neighbors how to live a healthier lifestyle.
The board is made up of well-respected, non-profit leaders with LINC, Feast Down East, Voyage, and New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
The hospital was involved in the project in its infancy, according to Director of Health Equity and Human Experience at New Hanover Regional Medical Center Joe Conway. One of the board’s key tenants is that Northside residents should be the ones driving the effort.
“One of the biggest things we need to take into consideration is to make sure we hear from that community, make sure we support that community, make sure that they’re involved in every step of the process,” said Joe Conway.
The process is picking up speed: their first pop-up event is days away and organizers are planning a small pilot store to open as soon as 2021, all while still finalizing details on the big co-op expected to open in the next three years.
The pilot store and the final location for the co-op are both located at the corner of 10th and Princess Streets—just across the street from each other. The pilot is an important step for the Northside Food Co-Op because it will be the first visual representation of the change leaders are working to bring to the neighborhood. They hope giving people something they can see creates momentum and rallies support for the big grocery store planned in the coming years.
“People in this community are not just sitting around waiting for someone to come around and save the day for them. People are getting up every day and making it their life journey to help rejuvenate a community that once was one of the most flourishing communities in this nation and you could be a part of it, and we want you to be a part of it,” said Harrison.
This effort will not continue without help from the community as a whole. You can find out how to buy shares on the group’s website NorthsideFoodCoop.com.
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