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With The Loss Of Save A Lot, Another Wichita Neighborhood Is Becoming A Food Desert. But Advocates Are Working On A Solution

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Carla Eckels
Daniel Esparza says his family frequents the Save A Lot at 13th and Grove almost every day. He hopes another store will be put in its place.

For this month’s In The Mix, Carla Eckels visits the Save A Lot at 13th and Grove.

The last of a handful of Save A Lot grocery stores in Wichita is scheduled to close its doors on Saturday.

The vacancy at 13th and Grove leaves the neighborhood in northeast Wichita in a food desert. But a new master food plan addressing food insecurity in the region is also in the works.

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Carla Eckels
Fredrick Collins says he's disappointed to see the Save A Lot close, just like the former IGA and Barry Sanders grocery stores that closed down nearby years ago.

For 15 years, the Save A Lot has been a staple in the community. Frederick Collins, 72, says frequents his neighborhood grocery store two or three times a week. The retired chef says he’s sad to see it go.

“It’s devastating,” he said, “for people that’s depending on walking or people just driving that you don’t have to go out of your neighborhood to go to a grocery store.”

Save A Lot is not the first grocery store near 13th and Grove to close. Collins remembers others that, over the years, once thrived, only to close too.

“We had IGA on that corner, Barry Sanders grocery store on that corner,” he said. “I don’t understand it.”

And Collins says the discount dollar stores and shops nearby won’t do.

“They don’t have produce and they don’t have things that’s healthy for Black people or any people, not just Black people,” he said. “But we aren’t supposed to have a lot of salt and most of these shops have processed food.

“It’s really tragic for us too.”

On a recent afternoon, just days before the store was set to close, pre-school teacher Daniel Esparza wheels out several sacks of groceries in a red cart.

“We’ve been here for years,” he said. “My family and I grew up going here every single day, so not only do I have to find somewhere else to go, this is really sad for us.”

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Carla Eckels

But, even as the latest closure grows Wichita’s food deserts, a new plan is in the works to address food insecurity in the region.

“Right now, nearly 100,000 Wichitans live in an area without healthy access to food,” said Shelley Rich with the Health and Wellness Coalition, which is helping draft the Food System Master Plan.

“That’s one of the main things that we want to address in this goal area, improving access to healthy food.”

Rich and her team recently presented the plan to members of the Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission. She says the plan has three main goals: “improve access to healthy food, to foster food system coordination and education and to increase local food production.”

Wichita residents had input on the plan as well: Nearly 70% of respondents said “increasing access to healthy food” is a priority.

“I see this at the food pantries,” Rich said. “They are doing a great job to distribute what’s been donated, but are there healthy options at the food pantries as well?

“This plan is looking at this system as a whole of how we can improve access to healthy foods in community in all of these different areas.”

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Carla Eckels
Carts stacked outside the Save A Lot at 13th and Grove, which is set to close on Saturday.

The corner market just doesn’t offer healthy items, Collins says, and travel to a traditional grocery store isn’t always easy. Now that Save A Lot is shutting its doors, he’ll have to look at going grocery shopping outside the neighborhood — the closest option is the Dillons at Hillside and Douglas, about two miles away.

“I have to catch the bus to go and take a cab back because that’s too many groceries to pack on the bus,” Collins said.

Rich says reducing transportation barriers that limit access to healthy food is part of the plan – not just distance to a store but safety issues like sidewalks and crosswalks.

The city and county need to formally adopt the Food System Master Plan. Once it’s adopted, they’ll appoint a Food Council to help implement the plan.

It’s something resident Daniel Esparza wants to see happen, and soon — a plan that includes a new grocery store with fresh food available once again in his neighborhood.

“I hope that grows … to be something great and to help bring new families to our neighborhood too and show how great this side of Wichita is,” he said.

Carla Eckels is Director of Cultural Diversity for News and Engagement at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.