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Mother-Daughter Hope To Open Second Black-Owned Grocery Store in Food Desert

Sign
A sign sits in the shopfront where a mother-daughter team hopes to open a Black-owned super market near a federally recognized food desert. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

*Joi Bass reported this story

A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Food Rite off Azalea Avenue closed its doors, making it even more difficult to get groceries in the Highland Park area.

Like many areas in Richmond, the Department of Agriculture labels Highland Park as a food desert, an area with high levels of poverty and low access to grocery stores.

A mother and daughter team planned to open Darrell’s Family Supermarket, a new grocery store, in the location on Dec. 12, but had to postpone after unexpected problems cropped up, says Renee Trueheart, a local real estate agent behind the initiative.

“I guess, when you have a dream, you have to research that dream to make sure it can come to fruition,” she said. 

Trueheart grew up in Mosby Court, a nearby public housing court, and says she knows what it’s like to not have access to fresh food. She says she’s always dreamed of opening a grocery store to serve the community she grew up in.

“That was the store that I’ve had my eyes on, because I know this community very well,” she said.

Storefront
The storefront, still sporting the old Food Rite sign. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Trueheart’s daughter, Tyra Gallagher, is a technician in a dialysis center. She’s planning to work with her mother to make the store a success, motivated by the needs of the patients she sees for medical care.

“I’ve had patients come in and tell me that they don’t have access to the proper food they need and they have to travel for miles in order to get to a decent grocery store,” Gallagher said.

Trueheart named the grocery store after her brother Darrell, who died in October. 

“He was a great guy, humble and loved God. I want for his name to be in lights because that’s what he deserved,” she said. 

Gallgher said the initiative started gaining attention after social media posts about the market went viral.

“We are shocked at all of the positive feedback we have received, praising us for what we are doing,” she said. “We’ve even had people say they will drive all the way from Northern Virginia just to support.”

According to the USDA, around 1.2 million Virginians lived in food deserts in 2015, roughly 15% of the state’s population. A recent estimate from Feeding America’s partner in Southeast Virginia found that number had risen to 1.7 million, or roughly 20%.

Eddie Oliver,  executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, says the phrase ‘food deserts’ has gained notoriety over the last few decades, but believes there is a better term.

“The term that I think captures it better is ‘food swamps.’ There is food in these areas, however, it is the cheapest, most processed foods you can find,” Oliver said. 

Oliver says they are a part of the Food Access and Equity task force, a municipal effort to improve access to healthy and affordable fresh foods throughout the city of Richmond. 

The group has supported legislation like the Grocery Investment Fund, which sought to fund grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods. It evolved into the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund, which passed in March. The program could help fund construction or upgrades to grocery stores like Darrell’s.

In addition to the challenges businesses face from COVID-19 restrictions, Oliver says supply chains are under pressure too, impacting distribution to grocery stores.

Gallagher said she’s received a lot of community support, and feels positive about opening Darrell’s, but obstacles still remain.

Sign
A sign announcing the current closure. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

“Opening a grocery store is very expensive, refrigeration has been challenging, finding good quality refrigeration has been hard,” she said. 

Currently, the owners are hoping to raise capital for the project through GoFundMe for a January opening. As of Dec. 16, they’ve raised about $5,000 out of a $95,000 goal. 

Last year, Sen. Mark Warner reintroduced The Healthy Food Access For All Americans Act . The bipartisan bill would provide low-income communities with incentives to help eliminate food deserts.