Web Exclusive #3: “Independent Grocers, Vulnerable Residents, and Community Coalitions: We’re All Essential!”

*For our recently published special issue, “Food in the Time of COVID-19”, we received more submissions than we could accommodate in the print version of the issue, so the following article forms part of a series of submissions which will be published as Web Exclusives which speak to the theme of Gastronomica 20.3.

By Alex B. Hill

May 15, 2020: Detroit, Michigan

FIGURE 1. Detroit grocery landscape during COVID-19.

Food is a human right. Food is a privilege. Many Detroiters lack both.

Sitting with community members in the sweltering and sticky basement of an Eastside church in the summer of 2012 to discuss community-grocer relations, I never would have expected our conversations would set us up to lead the city government’s comprehensive response to local food retailers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In early March 2020, the food council executive director asked how we, a local grocery workgroup, could, “help grocery stores and other critical businesses to operate more safely at this time.” Our small band of non-profit, university, and local government members convened by the local food council had now become a critical connection to the local grocers. We pivoted quickly from our regular discussions on store assessments to how and where we could find masks, gloves, and informational signage to help stores better serve their customers and protect their staff.

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