When a tornado tore through Old North Dayton on Memorial Day, one of the buildings destroyed was the neighborhood's last affordable, full-service grocery store.
Eight months later, that family shop is still working to reopen, so the neighborhood association and a local ministry are offering residents free rides to the nearest supermarket. WYSO News Reporter Jason Reynolds went shopping with them.
Ann Schaller drove a giant passenger van from Beavercreek to Old North Dayton bright and early Saturday morning.
Schaller belongs to Beavercreek Christian Church, which is loaning out their vans for grocery runs. They’ve partnered with the Old North Dayton Neighborhood Association and Love Monkey Ministries to make sure people living in Old North Dayton can get to affordable groceries.
“ZIP code doesn’t matter to us,” Schaller says. “There’s a need here. We know how to drive the vans, and we could fulfill the need.”
Bill Evans is a retired baker who has lived in Old North Dayton for over 50 years. These days, he volunteers with a number of charities, like St. Vincent DePaul, to help hungry people in his neighborhood find food.
“I made a good living in food service, and I just don’t want to see people go hungry,” Evans says.
Now, he’s volunteering to drive people to the grocery store, too.
“I can give you a Kroger gift card. I carry them all the time. I can give you a $40 or $50 Kroger gift card, but somebody wants $20 to take you to the grocery. Because if you don’t have transportation, the exchange rate on the street could be $20.”
Angela Cottrell suffered a stroke, and public transportation isn’t an option for her. Instead, she’s one of those people paying for rides.
“Sometimes people charge me $15,” Cottrell says. “Some people charge me $20.One time I caught a cab up there, it was almost forty dollars because they still have the meter running while you’re in the store.”
Mary Duncan has been taking public transportation to get groceries, but she says the bus ride takes “45 minutes to an hour each way,” and that doesn’t include waiting for the bus on each end of the trip or walking to and from her home. All totaled, those trips could take over three hours.
Everyone on the free grocery rideshare says they’re excited to buy fresh produce. They say it’s hard to find reasonably priced fruits and vegetables since the storm.
Ana Moreno says one of the worst parts of not having affordable, healthy food in the neighborhood is when she finds herself short on ingredients for a good family meal.
“Sometimes you go to cook and you’re missing some tomatoes or onions,” she says. “And you’re like ‘Oh! My Goodness! What am I going to do?’ But the WalMart or Kroger is too far away.”
When that happens, Moreno says she does without and makes the meal with whatever she has on hand.
On the ride back to Old North Dayton, Angela Cottrell says missing ingredients, even missing whole meals, is something the whole neighborhood has been struggling with since GroceryLane was hit by the tornado, looted in the wake of the storm, and eventually boarded up.
“It is sickening,” Cottrell says. “I'm really upset about that. Everybody went there because they have fresh meat, fresh vegetables, a nice price. So when they shut that down, everybody took a loss.”
The good news is the owners of GroceryLane have decided to reopen. Repairs on the exterior of the store are almost done, but work has just begun on the interior. A reopening could still be months away.
The last stop on the grocery run is Evans Bakery. Bill Evans retired years ago, but his daughter, Jennifer, decided to reopen the bakery he started back in 1969.
In addition to baking, Jennifer also seems to have inherited her father’s desire to help people. She says they’ll keep these grocery runs going for six months, by which time GroceryLane should be reopened. Then, they’ll turn their attention to other food issues.
“If we can get a grocery store back, then we can go back to focusing on those more systemic issues of just healthy eating,” Evans says. “Right now, we just want to make sure that people are eating and have access to any groceries. But after that, it’s back to ‘How do you live healthy?’”
For now, Evans says she hopes more people will take her up on a free ride to the grocery store. Those vans leave Old North Dayton every Saturday at 9 a.m.
If you live in Old North Dayton and need a ride to the grocery store, the neighborhood association is asking residents to call (937) 228-4151 to get more information and to make a reservation.