GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Among those filling their reusable grocery bags at The South East Market Monday morning was Jacobi Garrett, who was with her 6-year-old daughter Gracen.
“We have burgers and then we have some lovely carrot fries. I’m also a chef, so that’s a shameless plug,” Garrett joked as she sorted through items in the bag.
An oasis in the middle of a food desert, the idea behind The South East Market is simple. It aims to fill a chronic void especially common on Grand Rapids’ Southeast side: the availability of healthy, affordable food.
“I’m excited for the people of this neighborhood to have raw and real resources. Hopefully mindsets change, lifestyles change,” Garrett said.
“I’m just really honored to be able to see this community’s dream come to fruition,” Alita Kelly, who owns the market that stands along Kalamazoo Avenue SE south of Hall Street, told News 8 as the store celebrated its grand opening.
The lack of healthy grocery options has long been a problem in the neighborhood, impacting the health and well-being of residents for generations.
“The pandemic really illuminated some of the health disparities that communities like this experience,” Kelly said.
She said bringing healthy choices to the neighborhood goes far beyond wearing masks and other COVID-19 mitigation measures.
“It’s not just sending hand sanitizer. It’s giving them real means to be healthy and well,” Kelly said.
Produce and other items at her store come from Black, brown and indigenous farmers in the area.
“We really want to empower those people and empower diversity in the agriculture field, as well as local food businesses,” Kelly said. “There’s definitely enough resources in West Michigan to solve this need. I took a chance and luckily my community here in Grand rapids supported the idea. They saw the need.”
Past attempts to bring stores with more basic, healthier foods to the neighborhood have met with limited success. The South East Market offers produce subscriptions and donations from the community to help keep the merchandise affordable.
It’s a solution to a problem not everyone can identify with, but one that could have a lasting effects on those who can.
“You don’t even know how this chain of events will change the trajectory of generations to come,” Garrett said.