Bread for the City’s Food Program Doing More and More to Fight Hunger

food pantry 1

Robert Samuels of The Washington Post drew attention to the District’s food crisis in a December 21 article entitled, “The District has more grocery stores. But a growing number of residents can’t afford food.”

We appreciate Mr. Samuels shedding light on the hunger crisis in the DC Area and what steps groups like Bread for the City and our partners at the Capital Area Food Bank are taking in response. Hunger in DC is at a crisis level, and all citizens should do what they are able to ensure that all of our neighbors have enough to eat.

We encourage you to read the article in its entirety while directing special attention to this fact:

“Facing tight budgets because of the rise in food costs, 16 percent of the area’s food banks have cut hours, and 13 percent have reduced the geographic areas they serve.”

The rising cost of food has impacted Bread for the City significantly, pushing us nearly $50,000 over our food budget in the first quarter of this fiscal year. Thankfully, our donor community — that’s you — stepped up in a big way on #GivingTuesday and helped us fill that gap. Thank you!

Your continued support has also allowed us to do more while other pantries are forced to do less. In the past few years, Bread for the City’s food pantry has:

You have helped us come so far, but as Mr. Samuels makes clear, the need remains. Please give to Bread for the City today so that we can remain on the front lines fighting hunger in the District of Columbia.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You make our mission possible.

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Greens, Grains and the Grocery Store with Client Advisory Board Member Dorothy

Dorothy Kemp, DC resident and member of the Bread for the City Client Advisory Board, recently took Allison, a Bread for the City intern, grocery shopping. Let’s join them as Dorothy shares her experiences with being happy and healthy with an affordable, plant-based diet.

Dorothy chose the P Street Whole Foods for our grocery shopping tour, because of the bulk food options. But as we enter the store, Dorothy makes a beeline for the vegetables. Tonight she will be cooking a quinoa and winter vegetables dish, but is quickly distracted by the leafy greens — rapini and dandelion greens are her choices today. “Don’t worry, these aren’t from your yard.” These are added to her usual purchase of mixed salad greens, sold for under $5 a pound.

Dorothy, who has for years been eating a primarily vegan diet on a limited budget, laughs about the grief she gets from friends and family for her love of salad. “People are always asking: ‘Why are you eating that?’ Cause it works!”

“For me, not having meat is no big deal – I’m still healthy and hopefully the planet is a little cleaner. We have so much abundance and so many selections to make, and hopefully we can help each other make some of the healthier choices. And it’s not just affordable, but you can save money! Beans over meat, whole grains in bulk, vegetables…. The meat — I don’t miss it!”

Dorothy’s number one tip is to get to know the bulk foods section of stores like Whole Foods, with a wide variety of healthy whole grains, dried fruits, and nuts available more cheaply than in boxes or in pre-packaged meals. Whereas in the other aisles, a box of rice can cost $3.00 a pound, in the bulk aisles, it’s only $1.69 a pound. In this video, learn two of Dorothy’s tricks – knowing how much pasta is enough and knowing where to look for grains:

“Once a week or so I would try something different, try a new grain I didn’t know, see if I like it,” Dorothy explains how she came to love quinoa – a seed that cooks like a grain but contains all essential amino acids and is a staple in her cooking throughout the year. (It sells for $3.39 per pound in bulk versus the equivalent of $6.00 per pound in other aisles). We agree all the options might be intimidating for someone who’s never seen this section. “I would start with something that they’re familiar with – raw nuts, plain rice. And then if there’s something that they’d maybe heard of, or something they see on the list of grains, look it up and try to figure out how to use it.”

An incremental approach to eating healthier is something that Dorothy has applied in her own life and does not hesitate to share with friends. “I always encourage people to share what they’ve cooked. If you make enough to share, they’ll usually say, ‘This is not bad!’” She’s found that some of the main obstacles to healthier eating are attitudes about meat and sugar. With no shortage of creative alternatives, Dorothy finds that she can convince friends and family that other options exist. For folks who don’t like beans, she recommends starting with hummus. Not interested in cutting out sugar? Try using less sugar and adding fruit and cinnamon to oatmeal.

“I like being 64 and being able to tell people I can still run for the bus, I can still bend over to tie my shoes, I’m looking forward to being able to live a few more years,” she explains. “Eat what you know is good for your body and makes you happy, and doesn’t clog your arteries. And don’t apologize for it!”

At the same time, the challenges of making healthy choices are not lost on Dorothy. For her, the idea of food justice means “everyone should be able to have the best quality food that you can have, should be able to have a decent meal on the table. In a country of such abundance to still have people who don’t have access to good food – it’s like how people don’t have access to good healthcare. It is a right to eat well, to be able to nurture your body.”

Sharing good eating habits with neighbors sounds like a good place to start. Here are some other tips from Dorothy:

  • Avoid the packaged foods. Why? “Too costly, too much salt, and you can make your own!” Steer toward the bulk foods aisle instead.
  • Take one step at a time: We’re brought up on a lot of meat and sugar and something like brown rice has a texture that someone might not appreciate the first time around. Mixing whole grains in with regular cereals for breakfast or combining brown rice and white plain rice, can be a way to transition towards healthier meals.
  • Explore meat alternatives: Learning about how to sneak beans into meals for friends and neighbors was a highlight of our trip through the aisles – anything from cooking chili with vegan “meatloaf” to offering hummus as a snack.
  • Bleach bath for your produce: Protecting yourself from the herbicides and pesticides on fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to involve spending loads on organics. Mix a teaspoon or so of bleach in with a bowl of water and rinse your produce in it. This removes all the chemicals without leaving any taste of bleach.
  • Olive oil and low sodium chicken broth: Cooking with a little of either of these makes for a cheap and easy way to add tons of flavor to your veggies.
  • Get to know portion sizes: Knowing how much food is appropriate for your body can save you money as well.

>Anacostia and the Daily Food Dilemma


As a new resident of Washington, DC, and new staff member at Bread for the City, I had the opportunity to tour through a portion of Anacostia. As we visited the sites, I finally saw with my own eyes everything that I’d read about the lack of food access in this community.

As Jody Tick of the Capital Area Food Bank just wrote at the DC Food For All, Wards 7 and 8 suffer from the lack of supermarkets that offer healthy and affordable food. To see the disparity ourselves, we toured through two very different locations: the new Giant in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Ward 8 and the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket (right across the street from Bread for the City’s Southeast Office).

Walking into the Giant, which recently opened in December of 2007, the smell of fresh produce wafted past my nose, and I was struck by the colorful and varied assortment of fruits and vegetables. The shelves were fully stocked—with a variety of meats, grains, cooking amenities, and so forth. Healthy options, such as whole wheat tortillas and bread, were placed in prominent locations throughout the store. The building was large enough that we were able to navigate the store with little congestion just a little before rush hour. I was impressed by what I saw, and believe that the relatively new supermarket is an encouraging improvement for the residents nearby.

But this one store can’t serve such a broad geographic area and dense population. There are still not enough supermarkets for the residents of River East. And when we popped our heads into the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket just a block west of Bread For the City’s Southeast Office, we were surprised at the difference.

At first glance, one would think little of the store from its exterior. A nice-looking sign, but the very bleak and barred storefront blended into the street and did little to induce people to stop and shop. Once in the store, the first items that came into eyesight—once they properly adjusted to the dark—were stacks of alcoholic beverages. We turned full circle and witnessed cases of Cup of Noodles, Twinkies, chips, pork rinds, and other foods that that scream: “Diabetes! High cholesterol! Malnutrition!” Much of the food is both costly and a glut of carbohydrates and fats.

Behind the boxes of snacks and sweets, in the back recesses of the store, we found a selection of fresh meats and produce, both of which were modest. There was a variety, but the prices were a little high and some items looked a little mealy. A butcher was in the back, inhabiting a slightly grimy space, while the vegetables lined the farthest wall of the store.

Whereas in Giant my eyes were met with the rainbow of ripe foods and an array of healthy foods, the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket did little to promote its fresh offerings.

As noted in And Now, Anacostia, the very presence of the store is a step in the right direction. However, a rearrangement of the interior and perhaps a renovation of the exterior would make this store more inviting and help to target the truly nutritious foods that our community needs.

Let’s take a closer look at shopping in River East from the eyes of the local community. I surveyed a few people coming to Bread for emergency groceries, and the resounding response to the grocery query suggests that there is, in fact, a lot of demand for more and better stores.

Many mentioned shopping at the Tiger Mart, Murray’s, Safeway and Giant, but rarely at local corner stores. One woman stated, “The corner stores? That’s highway robbery.” Instead, as another woman stated “I have to walk ten blocks to get to Safeway. Bread there is 89 cents, and in the corner store it’s $1.99.”

But even the larger stores aren’t satisfactory in Anacostia. Terms such as “obnoxious” and “ridiculous” were used. Another gentleman noted that it’s 4 or 5 miles to get to the nearest supermarket from his house and sometimes the stores aren’t stocked with what he needs. Or, as two women voiced, the meat doesn’t last very long. One customer stated, “it’s not fair in the lower income neighborhoods.”

And this is why people often end up at our door. We can help with a short-term supplement with our bag of 3 days worth of groceries. The Healthy Corner Store Program is another way to begin the transition within stores to provide healthier options. But there is much more to be done in order to create a more equitable community food system in River East.

Healthy Corner Stores in DC

[Today we have a guest post from Kristin Roberts of DC Hunger Solutions. We’ve talked a lot on this blog about the lack of access to fresh produce in some DC neighborhoods, especially those east of the river. The D.C. Healthy Corner Store Program, funded by the D.C. Department of Health, is taking an innovative route to addressing that problem: working with small vendors to bring fresh fruit and veggies onto their shelves. They’re making great progress, so see if there’s a store in your neighborhood that you can support. —ed]

Greetings from the Healthy Corner Store Program!

We’re happy to share the news that 12 corner stores in Ward 7 and Ward 8 are currently selling farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, supplied by Healthy Solutions/D.C. Produce Co-Op and MAGNET Farms. (Healthy Solutions’ products all are organic.) Meanwhile, Ward 8 Farmers’ Market and Capital Area Food Bank are continuing to supply produce to K & H Market and Liff’s Market.

This week’s selection includes tomatoes, green peppers, peaches, watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, potatoes, onions and more! Several of the smaller stores have just a few items, while some larger ones have a wide selection. We hope that these stores are successful at selling produce and begin ordering it regularly, so that they can become consistent sources of affordable fresh produce in the community.

Please visit one of these stores for your next produce purchase and then help spread the word! We encourage customers to suggest their favorite fruits and vegetables to the store owners.

Contact D.C. Hunger Solutions ( or 202-986-2200 x3041) for more information or for promotional materials to share with your neighbors, friends, clients, and community.

D.C. Healthy Corner Stores

Martin Luther King Grocery – 2420 M. L. King, Jr. Ave. SE

Secrets of Nature – 3923 S. Capitol St. SW

Dollar Plus – 3921 S. Capitol St. SW

Elmira Grocery – 4401 S. Capitol St. SW

K & H Grocery – 3333 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SE

Liff’s Market – 600 Alabama Ave. SE

Suburban Market – 4600 Sheriff Road NE

A-1 Grocery – 615 Division Ave. NE

Penn Dollar Plus & Food Store – 2529 Pennsylvania Ave. SE

Jones Grocery Store – 4350 Texas Ave. SE

Dollar Plus – 4514 Benning Rd. SE

People’s Market – 3041 Naylor Rd. SE


>Announcing Our Latest Initiative: Glean for the City!


Time to bring fresh produce to everybody.

This week, Bread for the City is proud to announce our latest and most ambitious volunteer initiative—Glean for the City!

We’ve posted before on this blog about how much perfectly good food gets wasted, for a variety of reasons, between the farms that grow it and the stores that sell it. There are estimates that up to 50% of all food produced in the United States ultimately goes to waste. We plan to tap into some of this abundant produce supply so we can bring it to the District and give it to the people who would otherwise have to go without.

This weekend our first group will go to Parker Farm, about an hour away from DC, to pick corn. Every Saturday between July 11th and the middle of November, we will be asking other groups of 20-25 people to go to other farms in Virginia and Maryland to pick or “glean” the excess produce the machines leave behind so that we can offer fresh, free, local produce to neglected neighborhoods in our city. We estimate that one group can bring back enough produce to feed 1750 hungry people!

If you are interested in learning more, organizing a volunteer group, or donating to support this new effort, we’ve got specifics on our website for you. We’ll also be putting updates here on the blog as Glean for the City gets underway. Finally, many thanks to all of you in the community who have made this new initiative possible!

More on the Bag Bill


The mighty Anacostia.*

I’ve spoken with a number of people about the Bag Bill over the past couple of weeks. We support the bill, but there are some who have concerns that a fee on plastic bags will have an undue impact on the poor.

Two concerns were raised on multiple occasions that I think deserve an answer:

Why is a fee on plastic/paper bags needed now, of all times? DC is currently spending $50 million dollars annually to clean up the Anacostia river — and that’s not even working all that well. It’s so bad that the EPA is about to start fining DC for the pollution. The cost for the EPA fines is a bit hard to calculate, but the Informer is throwing around figures of up to $32,500 a day for the trash in the Anacostia above the maximum daily load. That means, even by conservative estimates, that we’d be looking at fines of a few million dollars per year–even at a time when we’re all struggling just to keep small, critical public programs alive. By spending more money on prevention, the city will avoid this fee and decrease the amount we have to spend long-term on litter pick-up, river scrubbings, etc.

What about the non-profit organizations in Wards 7 and 8? Small food pantries often receive their plastic bags as donations from constituents; there is concern that the bag fee would mean that fewer bags are donated to those organizations. Though my personal sense is that the effect of the fee on the supply of donated bags will be small, I also know that there are a number of ways that we non-profits can work together to ensure that there’s no negative impact. Bread for the City, for example, buys bags in such bulk that they are just incredibly cheap–and in the past, we’ve worked with other food pantries to share the benefits of that scale.

But the point of all this is that we should have fewer disposable bags, right? And this bill will generate the funding to provide massive amounts of reusable bags to the public at large, with a specific emphasis on low-income neighborhoods. Bread for the City and a number of other non-profits (including non-profs in River East) have volunteered to be distribution sites for reusable bags, and we will be encouraging people to use those bags at both grocery stores and at our food pantry. We believe that this is a win-win for the community, though we do encourage any food pantry representatives or other public advocates to share any persistent concerns with us.

*picture used courtesy of TrailVoice.

The Rise of the Reusable Bag


Bread for the City is giving out reusable bags!

Our readers are certainly aware by now that a mere two weeks ago Bread for the City came out in support of the “Bag Bill” that will place a 5 cent fee on bags at grocery stores. That money, in turn, will be directed toward cleaning up the Anacostia, which is currently in complete disrepair. If you’re coming to this debate late, Greater Greater Washington, And Now, Anacostia, and Congress Heights on the Rise have also covered the bill.

Bread for the City is committed to doing our part. As the largest food pantry in DC, we use a lot a paper and plastic bags, and though that won’t change overnight, we’re on the path to being a more eco-friendly pantry. As you can see by the pictures above and below, Bread for the City is distributing reusable bags! These bags were provided by the DC Department of the Environment so that we can start giving them out before the fee actually takes effect. After the passage of the Bag Bill, a number of non-profs and agencies will be distributing reusable bags. The only difference is in color–the other bags will be blue. We’re also putting information in the bags about the Bag Bill so that people will keep their bags, using them for both our food pantry and their local grocery store.

Beyond Bread: Supporting Reusable Bags

>~Bread for the City recently came out in support of the Bag Bill, a measure that would put a five cent fee on plastic and paper bags at grocery stores. As we discussed, Councilmember Wells came to our Southeast Center to discuss the specifics of the legislation, and also take suggestions from our staff on how to implement the program in a way that didn’t disproportionately affect low-income residents. A number of helpful measures were built into the bill, but on top of that reusable bags will be available for Bread for the City, public agencies, and other non-profits to distribute free of charge. Greater Greater Washington, And Now, Anacostia, The River East Idealist, and Congress Heights on the Rise have also come out in support of the measure which we believe will help drastically reduce contamination of the Anacostia River.

~The AFRO started a series to document what homelessness really means in the nation’s capital. The first article by Joseph Young follows Myra Diggs, a 43 year old woman whose bipolar disorder was misdiagnosed.

~TPM had a nice write-up about how Bread for the City is handling the weak economy, the Poverty & Policy Blog continued our discussion of how TANF needs to be given a cost of living adjustment (among other things), and renewshaw has a helpful, condensed list of all the changes (including Bread for the City’s expansion) that are slated to take place in Shaw.