In the ghetto streets of North Philadelphia, there’s a store with new staff members almost every week. There’s always boxes in the aisles that look untouched and create limited space for people to push their carts. To top it all off, an angry manager who doesn’t give a-…. This is not your average Family Dollar, no, this one needs assistance but not with security. When you first walk through the sensor doors, you see a tall, slim, lean security guard with a bright red shirt that says “SECURITY.” Though the aisles have not been stocked for the last two months, the security guard seems to be improving. Went from having normal clothes with gloves on that show he means business, to having a bright red security shirt, a silver badge (that looks fake) and some fresh new kicks! It is nice to see some improvement but I can’t say Family Dollar is improving.

My mom, Annette West, who is usually shopping for the family’s groceries can attest to the local food stores not improving. Born and raised in the hard parts of North Philly made her extremely aware of the food desert. “As far as around where I’ve lived at all my life, it’s no fresh thing. So like my husband said, we have to walk… and plenty water.” Annette said this and you can notice the slang in her words emphasizing that she’s a North Philadelphia native. When she said “it’s no fresh thing,” she meant that there are no fresh-supplied supermarkets. Many people within these communities have grown accustomed to this reality and have had no choice but to adapt. Having to flush the food down with water so the quality of the food doesn’t get you sick is not a pleasant reality.

So I’m out grocery shopping with my mom and I notice that we didn’t drive to Walmart this time. Instead we went to Save A Lot, a grocery store that’s a cheaper alternative but with lower quality food. “I can spend the same price but I can get more food here.” My mom said this to me and it made me feel conflicted because I like the quality at Walmart. I can never get the same quality food at Save A Lot and that’s very aggravating. “You have to stay within your means. Your priorities come first which is your bills.” Our last trip to Walmart ended up being expensive and I saw the frustration in her face. We bagged all the groceries and placed them in the cart to head back to the driver my mom paid for transportation. As I’m pushing the cart I noticed that my mom wouldn’t take her eyes off of the receipt. Though she was wearing a mask on her face, I could feel the anger in her voice as she explained her frustration. I didn’t see this behavior at Save A Lot.

Many people in low-income communities have no choice but to choose the cheapest options. Eating a cup of ramen noodles everyday is something people have been doing way before college students. Even though this is normalized, when will the significance of a balanced diet become a stronger priority? Food-insecure children may also be at an increased risk for a variety of negative health outcomes, including obesity. They also face a higher risk of developmental problems compared with food-secure children. In addition, low quality foods may have a negative effect on children’s mental health. Is scientific evidence needed to prove that eating the same poor quality food everyday will cause long-term problems among children in food deserted communities? My mom and my dad sacrifice so much for our family so that we don’t have to be like the majority. We don’t own a car so our family has to pay extra to have access to higher quality food that’s also more expensive. It’s a gesture I can’t take for granted because I’m aware of the food desert that’s affecting my neighborhood and others. Schools in our neighborhood teach us about the food pyramid but don’t tell us what to do if we don’t have access to all of the parts. 

On a cloudy afternoon my mom sent me to the store to get her aluminum pans for the chicken and ribs, and a pack of Goobers (her favorite candy). I grabbed my silver scooter and raced over to the store because I felt drizzling rain. As I’m approaching Family Dollar, I see a man who seems to be homeless sitting next to the sensor doors. This is a very common scene in places like North Philadelphia, people stand outside of places where they know people have money. It’s the security’s job to tell them to leave but they don’t do it because it has become normal here. “I don’t really feel too safe. The neighborhood itself is not safe. So how can I be safe inside the store?” My dad said this and it completely resonated with me. Though the security is there and appears to be well-funded, this community has a long way to go in making people feel safe. The funds used to make upgrades for the security should be used on the food desert that’s causing bigger problems.

Now is the time to spread awareness of food deserts because the condition of the world is making it more difficult. In non-pandemic times, households with children were nearly 1.5 times more likely to experience food insecurity than households without children according to the USDA.13.6% of households with children experienced food insecurity last year. More than 5 million children lived in these homes. Food insecurity does not simply mean that people don’t have access to food, it’s also a term that means people don’t have access to nutritious food. The pandemic has  intensified existing food insecurity and places like North Philadelphia have been dealing with it. The amount of people it’s currently affecting will only multiply if nothing is done about it.

Family Dollar’s a go-to place for families around this neighborhood. If stores like Family Dollar were able to use their profit to build up our local economy, we would see some improvements. Instead most of the profit is going to Wall Street to create more stores that won’t build the local economy. With this knowledge I’ll take a trip to Wawa to remind myself of how things are supposed to be. The Wawas around Philadelphia provide great service and great food with a safe environment. I order the same cheesesteak from Wawa every time and they never let me down. Most of the people in low-income communities are not used to this type of treatment because our local food stores don’t have that type of service or energy. So when I receive high quality service I always show gratitude because it’s something I’ve grown to appreciate. I’ll take a trip to Wawa to remind myself of the endless possibilities.


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