Westside residents will march three miles today from their neighborhood to Buehler's Food Market downtown and back to show their need for a grocery store and their ability to support one. "We want the city to help us find a store," said Gloria Griffith, a Westside resident and elder of Renaissance Presbyterian Church.
If the city can subsidize Volkswagen, it can supplement the Westside getting a grocery store, added her husband, the Rev. Leroy Griffith. Westside residents worked with Chattanooga Organized for Action to set up the march. The groceries they purchase at Buehler's today will be donated to the Angel Food Ministry at Renaissance Presbyterian Church, said Chris Brooks, senior organizer with Chattanooga Organized for Action.
The community-based advocacy group was one of the leaders of this year's failed recall of Mayor Ron Littlefield. Buehler's is the closest grocery store to the Westside community, and the march will allow "non-Westside residents to walk in the shoes of the people who live here," said Brooks.
The Westside includes 3,500 residents in eight low-income housing sites: College Hill Courts, Boynton Terrace Apartments, The Overlook, Dogwood Manor, Gateway Towers and Jaycee Towers. About a third of the residents are older than 50 and several are in wheelchairs.
"I don't live in the Westside, but we're all a part of one city," Brooks said. "I don't want to live in a city where I know the elderly have to go three miles in their wheelchair in the cold to get the groceries they need."
City officials understand the need, but they can't force a private business to locate there, said Littlefield spokesman Richard Beeland.
"It doesn't matter how much money you give someone to locate; if they're not going to be successful in that location, then they are not going to come there. It's unfortunate, but it's reality," Beeland said.
IF YOU GO
What: Westside residents food march
When: Noon today
Where: From old Dollar General store, 1221 Grove St., to Buehler's Market, 429 Market St., and back.
Information: Chris Brooks, 653-2393 or www.CHATTACTION.ORG
Charles Morton, owner of Buehler's Food Markets, said he's not against the march and he's donating food to the Renaissance Church, but as a businessman he understands the difficulty of getting a grocery store in the Westside.
Warehouses don't supply small grocery stores, he said.
"These warehouses are from Nashville, Atlanta, Alabama, and these trucks can't run up here without you selling a whole lot of groceries," he said. "If we didn't buy 30,000 groceries a week they wouldn't even stop here."
Westside residents argue that they can afford to support a grocery store in their community. Buehler's is a tough trek for people in wheelchairs or without cars, residents say.
"You can walk there," said Leroy Griffith. "But how much can you carry?"
It gets even more complicated when the walker is a single mom trying to control children while carrying groceries, Griffith said.
"We don't want people to feel sorry for us," said Westside resident Betty Bishop. "We just want a store."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.