by James C. Sherlock
I have written in this space many times about the struggles of Petersburg.
Petersburg is blessed in one way.
The Progress-Index’s Bill Atkinson and Joyce Chu may be the best pair of local news reporters working in Virginia.
Mr. Atkinson, in a series of reports, has detailed the continuing struggles of that city to get a grocery store downtown.
The big grocers surround the center of the city in more prosperous, safer areas but have not entered there.
It is no secret why. Poverty and crime do not attract retailers vulnerable to shoplifting and worse. And Petersburg is among the poorest and most crime-ridden in Virginia.
A recent Petersburg solicitation for interest in building a grocery store downtown drew no bidders.
The Governor has a broad Partnership for Petersburg initiative to help Petersburg help itself It is run by Garrison Coward, an external-affairs senior advisor to Gov. Youngkin.
He reports that the Governor is “hell-bent” on seeing a grocery store built there.
I will offer an idea.
Why Petersburg? Public Health and Food Insecurity. Petersburg has the worst rated public health in Virginia, both in health outcomes and in the factors that support health. County Health Rankings by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute are an official reference offered by the Virginia Department of Health.
Hopewell and Emporia are tied for next worst. Go here for more information.
Southside and the coalfields have the worst problems for the percentage of children in food insecurity.
Using that link, the two locations I found with the highest percentages of food insecure children in Virginia were Petersburg (38.6%) and Hopewell (33.8%).
Food Lion. Food Lion is by far the largest grocer in Virginia with 278 locations here.
Food Lion also has a robust non-profit hunger-relief initiative, Food Lion Feeds, which has pledged to double its meals distributed to 1.5 billion between now and 2025.
Regional charity partner. The Food Lion Feeds regional partner in the Petersburg area is Feed More, headquartered in Richmond.
Feed More already supports charitable pantries on Commerce Street, E. Washington St. and South Crater Road shown on the map.
The area targeted for the new grocery store is shown in the downtown just west of Alt 301 in the Halifax Triangle and Downtown Commercial Historic District.
Local support. Petersburg hosts a significant number of churches. Their pastors and congregations will be interested in both the grocery store and the charitable support Food Lion Feeds can offer.
Local residents would be doubly invested in the success of the store.
City and community leaders, local pastors and non-profits would see the value and spread the word, increasing naturally the external security that the city would offer.
Bottom line. I offer above an idea that can both provide a grocery store and stock new food pantries in an area of desperate need for both.
The governor’s office is already working on its own plan, and it may prove superior to the one I offer.
But properly approached by the governor’s office and with external security guarantees and location support from Petersburg, Food Lion could prove interested in a way to combine its retail business with its hunger-relief initiative, and do well while doing good.
And it would certainly fill a desperate need.
Update Mar 3 at 14:30. In response to reader challenges, I have provided a new section “Why Petersburg? Public Health and Food Insecurity.”