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A WIC Win: Good Returns and Healthy Corners

The Healthy Corners Team chats with Bellevue residents outside of Elmira Market at a community event on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. Elmira Market is one of the Healthy Corners partner stores that now accepts WIC checks. Hadley Chittum | DC Central Kitchen

Ten years after the first seeds of Healthy Corners stores were planted in the District, this award-winning DC Central Kitchen social enterprise has become crucial conduit for people and communities experiencing food apartheid to access healthy, produce. Stores all over the city are stocked with Healthy Corners refrigerators filled with fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious snacks – all at discounted rates that ensure they’re affordable for everyone.

What started with a handful corner stores has now grown to a network of 56 locations, 15 of which now accept SNAP-EBT benefits, and by the end of October, nine will accept WIC checks.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a Federal program designed specifically to help mothers and caregivers purchase healthy foods for themselves and their kids. In DC, participants work with a nutritionist to identify which specific foods they should purchase with their WIC checks such as infant foods, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products, and select retailers are authorized participate in the WIC program, offering these products at fair prices.

DC Central Kitchen was part of a coalition of advocates, policymakers, and agency experts who contributed to the drafting and passage of the DC WIC Program Expansion Act of 2018, which lifted restrictions on the type of stores that were allowed to accept WIC, allowing smaller stores to begin participating. Because full-service grocery stores remain hard to reach for more than one hundred thousand District residents, allowing small corner stores in communities without supermarkets to accept WIC benefits lowers a crucial access barrier for mothers and young families in DC.

“East of the Anacostia River…here are three grocery stores — one for every 50,000 residents. West of the Anacostia River there’s a grocery store for about every 5,000 DC residents. Something is tragically wrong,” said Mike Curtin, DC Central Kitchen CEO, on the issue of food apartheid in the District.

The measure also helps these dollars be used more efficiently and offers financial benefits to our local economy. Through close collaboration with experts at DC Health and the DC WIC State Agency we were able to introduce WIC benefits at three Healthy Corners partners this past April. It was such an economic and public health game changer that six more Healthy Corners locations are following suit this fall.

“A lot of the stores have seen really good return,” said Carmen Angel, Healthy Corners Program Specialist. “They love helping out the community and giving back.”

Many store owners are thrilled to offer other healthy options that they previously could not, like whole grains and oats, and know there is a built-in market buoyed by the WIC program.

A-1 grocery store owner Medina is excited to accept WIC benefits at her store in Northeast DC. “Accepting WIC also supports the community because it helps my customers buy and eat healthier foods.” she said.

Chef Mimi of DC Central Kitchen hands a sample of a Kale Salad to a Bellevue resident at a Healthy Corners Community event at Elmira Market on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. Hadley Chittum | DC Central Kitchen

Since its inception in 2011, Healthy Corners has confirmed time again that there is significant and often unmet demand nutritious products. Communities experiencing food apartheid are subjected to a perpetual cycle: if healthy, affordable, and dignified foods are not made available, then of course they cannot be sold at high volumes, which turn reinforces decisions not to invest in healthy food infrastructure in these communities. Our decade of data collection shows that providing adequate supply while stimulating demand through intentional outreach activities and partnerships with Federal programs like WIC and SNAP leads to better outcomes for consumers and small businesses.

The expansion of WIC is particularly important because of the gender disparity when it comes to food-insecurity. A USDA report this year found that single-parent, female-headed households are 10% more likely to be food insecure compared to male-headed households.

“It doesn’t just end with providing access to healthy foods though,” said Angel. “It’s important for us to have regular community events where we show communities how to utilize these healthy foods through cooking demonstrations and recipe cards.” Our outreach efforts create employment and leadership opportunities for residents who have themselves experienced food apartheid and food insecurity – another win/win.

Though the past six months are just the beginning in expanding WIC benefits across Healthy Corners store partners, it’s an important move in closing the food inequity gap.

By the end of October, the following Healthy Corners stores will accept DC WIC:

  • Circle Seven – 1211 Mt. Olivet Rd NE
  • A-1 Grocery – 615 Division Ave NE
  • Newton Food Mart – 3600 12th St NE
  • Circle Seven Express – 740 Kenilworth Ave NE
  • Holiday Market – 3509 Wheeler Rd NE
  • Chesapeake Big Market – 601 Chesapeake St SE
  • Stanton Supermarket – 615 Division Ave NE
  • Fort Drum Market – 4684 MLK Jr Ave SW
  • Elmira Market – 4401 S Capitol St SW

We can’t wait for this list to keep growing next year!