East Chattanooga residents gathered last week at Purpose Point Community Health to share what they want in a neighborhood grocery store with representatives from the city of Chattanooga and several health-focused nonprofit organizations.
The neighborhood is again without a grocery store following the June closing of the Save A Lot grocery store that operated for nearly two years at 2300 Dodson Ave.
"One of the things that we are left with here is the building, the structure in this neighborhood, and so one of our goals is to figure out how to best utilize what we have," said Kristi Wick, a clinical leader at Purpose Point Community Health, a clinic offering primary care and chronic disease management that focuses its efforts on boosting health in the East Chattanooga neighborhoods surrounding it.
Marvene Noel, who represents the area on the Chattanooga City Council, said the community needs access to healthy fruits and vegetables. As a pharmacist, Noel often fills prescriptions for people with chronic conditions that could be prevented with better nutrition, she said.
She encouraged residents to contact her if they want to talk privately about how to address the issue.
Also among those who spoke at the meeting was Holly Martin, executive director of the Chattanooga Food Center, an organization with a mission to provide access to food from local farms, engage the community with regional agriculture and provide nutrition education.
The organization operates Gaining Ground Grocery, a 500-square-foot grocery store in the St. Andrews Center in Highland Park that offers fresh produce from local farmers, bulk goods and whatever the community says it wants, she said.
"Our mission really is to provide foods that aren't necessarily easily accessible in that neighborhood," Martin said of Gaining Ground. "I feel like there's a lot of opportunity for these kinds of efforts in listening to the community, and I'd love to see something like that here. I'm very open to listening to a different kind of concept because I think every community is different."
Residents were asked to fill out surveys to provide information, including the types of foods they would shop for in the neighborhood, how far they travel currently to get fresh fruits and vegetables and whether they walk, bike, take a bus or drive to the store or have their groceries delivered.
When Mildred Moreland moved to East Chattanooga in 1966, the neighborhood was self-sufficient, she said.
"Everything that can be taken away from this community is always taken away," Moreland said, referring to businesses such as grocery stores and banks that have moved out of East Chattanooga.
Moreland can drive anywhere she wants to buy food, but the community has many residents who don't have that ability, she said.
The closest grocery store to Jackie Simpson's home is on 23rd Street, and when she goes there, she always shops for neighbors and relatives who can't get to the store themselves, Simpson said.
"I am disappointed in the way this community has been forgotten," Moreland said. "I think no one thinks about what's going on with this community or their needs. Even when you come and you provide it, it's not long before it's gone."