Last month, Publix Super Markets announced the closure of a store located in Gateway Plaza, on the Northside of Jacksonville. Its doors will be shut by the end of the year. Our community was distraught in the wake of the announcement. While there has been some media coverage of the neighborhood’s reaction, one angle that hasn’t been explored in-depth is the potential health crisis that would be created by this decision. This store is the only quality grocery store in the area. It’s the only place where neighborhood residents can reliably expect to find fresh produce and healthy choices. Its closure will create new food deserts across the Northside and negatively impact several communities.
More than a mere loss of convenience, however, this decision will actively create a health crisis. This Publix location serves one of Jacksonville’s most vulnerable populations. The surrounding area, designated Health Zone 1 by the Florida Department of Health-Duval County, has the city’s highest rates of child, elder and overall poverty. Life expectancy in Health Zone 1 is four to nine years shorter than all other health zones. Area residents face health issues that hinge on access to quality nutrition (FDOH-DC Place Matters Report, 2012).
“Access to healthy food is essential to the health of any community. Food deserts are a public health concern as they limit the availability and accessibility of healthy foods, which are vital in one’s ability to manage chronic diseases,” said Kayla Fisher, a registered dietitian in the area.
Dr. Brian Yorkgitis, a surgeon and assistant professor added, “I was saddened to hear the news about Publix. So many of my patients rely on that location. We know food deserts create downstream effects on health and community wellness.”
The choice to close this particular location is a slap in the face to our under-served community and will have a tangible impact on the physical health of our neighbors. It serves as yet another reminder on the part of those in positions of power that our neighborhood is less valued, less seen and less important that other communities within our city.
Conversely, choosing to reverse this decision would be an act that could positively demonstrate the value, worth and dignity of our community. In the past week, we have collected more than 6,000 signatures for a Change.org petition seeking exactly that: the reversal of this decision. Our community is mobilizing with direct action toward the Publix corporation and city leaders.
Nettleton is the director of Brentwood-based nonprofit 2nd Mile Ministries.