WEST GARFIELD PARK. Residents of West Side gathered at Aldi headquarters on Thursday to demand answers as to why the company abruptly closed its grocery store in a district that was already battling food shortages.
Aldi 3835 W. Madison St. closed earlier this month, the exact time is not clear. According to Austin Weekly News, the rumors about the closure of the store appeared around October 9. Two days later, the sign was removed, and the workers were wondering how to clean the shelves and the furniture.
Residents of West Garfield Park are urging Aldi to work with the community to ensure that another grocery store can take over the now-empty building. West Garfield Park now has only one other grocery store, Save-A-Lot at 420 S. Pulaski Road.
“They have created a food desert. We hold the community accountable, ”said TJ Crawford, director of Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative. “At the same time, we want access to fresh, healthy food for communities that desperately want to get out of the pit of ill health.”
According to a 2015 report by the University of Virginia Partnership, Garfield Park residents face severe health inequalities, have an average life expectancy of 16 years shorter than people living in the Center.
The asymmetry is conditioned not only by the shortcomings in the field of clinical healthcare. “Social conditions, such as the lack of fresh food, are the main drivers of the so-called ‘death gap,'” said Rachel Smith, director of social work and community health at Rush University Medical Center.
“People are learning to work on it,” Smith said. “What happens is that you choose the less healthy resource that is available. It provides fast food. It is for rent in a corner shop. It gives these unhealthy options because it’s what you have. It affects the individual’s health and the spread of chronic diseases. “
West Garfield Park has one of the largest patient populations served by Rush, says Julia Bassett, the hospital’s health և community benefits manager. Rush regularly offers community health programs and food distribution in the area, but these services go so far without the many grocery stores.
“Access to food is a human right. Individuals have the right to be healthy. It should not be based on your zip code. “It should not be based on your financial situation,” Bassett said.
The loss of Aldi will be particularly damaging to neighbors living in four senior malls in the same grocery store neighborhood, said May Henderson, a resident who runs a New Mount Pilgrim Church nursing program. Most of the area’s elders trusted Aldi because it was the only place within walking distance where they could pick up groceries between meals, Henderson said.
“When that food runs out, where should you go to get food?” It is a terrible situation. “It really is,” Henderson said. “We are talking about seniors. We are talking about people with disabilities, people who do not have the mobility to go out to Oak Park to get to the grocery store. “It is an epidemic in an epidemic that they are shutting down the last source of food.”
It is particularly outrageous that Aldi closed the store without notifying residents, not allowing local organizations to negotiate solutions to keep the store open, find city support or create alternative food resources, said Marshall Hatch, senior of the New Mount Pilgrim. church
“It’s devastating,” Heth said. “Aldin literally left in the dark of night. No warnings, no notices, no conversations or dialogues. This is quite a shock to many people who have limited options. “The culmination of corporate irresponsibility is not involving the community at all.”
The other Aldi in the city have been renovated and reopened as part of a $ 1.6 billion nationwide investment. A spokesman for Aldi said the West Garfield Park store had closed “due to a sharp drop in sales due to the fact that we operated the site at a loss for several years”.
“Poor sales results” and rising costs have simply made it difficult to keep the store open. “We are proud to have served the people of West Garfield Park for the past 30 years and thank our customers for their loyalty,” the statement said.
A coalition of affiliates, including the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Campaign, the Garfield Park Community Council, and New Mount Pilgrim Church, are working to ensure that the vacant building becomes a grocery store again.
Groups are asking Aldi to give the building to the community or sell it at a discounted price so that it can be used to engage a local or more socially conscious retailer, Heath said. The organizations work in Ald. Jason Erwin (28th), to persuade the city to offer incentives that will attract the retailer to the building, he said.
“We really do not want them to sell the building to a non-retailer after making all this profit from the community. “We want to make sure it’s a grocery store,” said Heath. “We expect the city to work with us. “We expect Aldi to simply abandon the building.”
This is the second time in less than a year that a grocery store has left the West Side Desert without notice. In December, one of Austin’s only grocery stores, Save-A-Lot, suddenly closed, prompting many residents to try to find new food.
The city as a whole should “set a certain standard of conduct” and stop supporting corporations that “mostly rob and then leave with impunity,” Heth said.
The introduction of new food options has been a long-term goal for Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, Crawford said. The group now needs to accelerate those plans: work in the coming weeks to identify community-focused retailers for support who can fill the void left by Aldi.
“It’s a reminder that we have to be the solution. “No one else is going to do it for us,” Crawford said.
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