The Willy North Store represents a sea change for the Northside community. This is because it represents a chance for a very economically poor community to experience less of a food desert environment so residents and neighbors can access and add healthier food options in their respective households.
This is particularly important for our communities of color and their broad diverse make-up. Rarely has this been a possibility without a large and full-scale grocery store on this side of town. The other benefit has been an increase in new northside Co-op Owners and that the customers we now serve are truly a mosaic of people from a wide array of backgrounds, beliefs and differences, connected by a consistent thread of being neighbors.
Frequently, food desert environments in low-income neighborhoods are replete with discussion of economic classism where the consumer of the services bears a larger burden of the disparity, usually due to lack of transportation and/or being on very low fixed incomes and unable to afford healthy food options. Resources such as access to weekly food pantries, like what is offered at Kennedy Heights Community Center and other surrounding agencies, is not sufficient to meet all remaining needs in neighborhoods within food deserts.
The addition of Willy North begins the process of filling the gap by providing affordable and healthy options near many northside residents who otherwise would face transportation or budgetary constraints when shopping for their groceries. Additional assistance remains, but the availability of the local grocery shuttle has helped as well.
To determine the ongoing impact of the store’s value to the community, we will need to continue to listen, serve, and engage in a neighborhood and door-to-door discussion with northside residents to better understand if and how Willy Street Co-op is benefiting them and contributing to ongoing progress and improvement in the area.
The good news is Willy Street Co-op has the ability to lead by example and change the economic landscape by showing the value of diversity in the North Madison area.
To make this change happen, it will be like a marriage—together we all have to commit to continuing programming, evaluation and creation of a place that is inclusive of all cultures and celebrates diversity. And we must change to healthy eating, which creates healthy thinking.
Thank you, Willy Street Co-op and Willy North.