Bellingham residents gathered to protest the lack of fresh and healthy foods available in the Birchwood neighborhood on Monday, May 7.
The rally was held in front of the former Albertsons building at the Park Manor Shopping Center. Albertsons closed two years ago. Albertsons spokesperson Sara Osborne said the closure was due to a lack of business, according to a Bellingham Herald article .
The store’s closure turned the Birchwood neighborhood into a “food desert,” Alex McIntyre, a Western alumnus and one of the rally coordinators said.
A food desert is defined as a low-income urban area in which people are a mile or more from a supermarket, according to an article by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.
The closure has meant that Birchwood residents have had difficulties accessing healthy, affordable food.
The rally was sponsored by the Birchwood Food Desert Fighters, a local activist group made up of Birchwood residents.
Dyan Liden, a resident of the Birchwood neighborhood, was at the rally with her eight-year-old daughter Bijou.
“I think that it’s just not fair to have a community have to travel so far when there’s a certain demographic of people who don’t have a vehicle,” Liden said. “There’s this stretch that is well-traveled and well-needed for food for people. That’s the crux of it, I feel.”
The food desert especially impacts those who have mobility issues, such as elderly people, McIntyre said.
Betty Ross is a resident at Birchwood Manor, a retirement home in Birchwood located near the old Albertsons building. She said many of the people in her community, including herself, have had trouble getting food.
“We definitely need, if nothing else, a mini store that gives the basic things like bread and eggs and milk and that kind of stuff,” Ross said.
The Birchwood Food Desert Fighters hold a smaller vigil every other Thursday at the same location.