(Washington, DC) – As of April 1, 2021, for the first time in the District, three DC corner stores began accepting U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits, making these essential nutrition resources more available to DC families than ever before. This expansion was made possible by a multi-year collaboration between the DC Department of Health (DC Health), DC WIC State Agency, and DC Central Kitchen.
“We know that food access and insecurity have been exacerbated by COVID-19, especially in communities most impacted by the pandemic. When looking for new food retail businesses to strategically expand access to DC WIC, it was important to us to be intentional and help bring high-quality, healthy food options to neighborhoods that our families will need now and into the future,” said LaQuandra Nesbitt, Director of DC Health. “Our partnership with DC Central Kitchen, and their deep ties to Corner Store owners, has been crucial to successfully onboard Corner Stores to DC WIC.”
USDA WIC program helps expectant mothers and families with young children afford essential food items, receive nutrition counseling and breastfeeding support, and be connected to other healthcare and community resources.
DC Central Kitchen’s Healthy Corners program launched in September 2011 in response to the crises of food insecurity and diet-related diseases in DC neighborhoods. With annual support from Mayor Muriel Bowser and DC Health, this pioneering social venture aims to make healthy food accessible in neighborhoods without access to full-service grocery stores – “food deserts” – by empowering corner stores to stock and sell affordable, healthy options.
“The introduction of WIC benefits at small DC corner stores is a game-changer for food-insecure families and hard-hit local retailers,” said DC Central Kitchen CEO Mike Curtin, Jr. “We applaud DC Health’s intentional community engagement process that made this idea a reality. Our combined efforts through the Healthy Corners program created the foundation of trust, evidence, and shared visioning that will make it easier for parents to provide young children with the essential nutrition they need to thrive.”
All three of the participating corner stores are in Wards 7 and 8. Approximately 35% of DC WIC’s 15,000 participants live in Wards 7 and 8 where, currently, there are only three full-service grocery stores that operate and accept WIC benefits. When the District of Columbia passed the WIC Expansion Act of 2018, it eased requirements for stores to qualify to accept WIC benefits, allowing small stores, including corner stores, to participate in this national public health nutrition program alongside larger grocery stores.
The Healthy Corners locations now accepting WIC benefits include:
- A-1 Grocery - 615 Division Avenue, NE
- Holiday Market - 3509 Wheeler Road, SE
- Stanton Supermarket - 1453 Howard Road, SE
more than two years, DC Health and DC Central Kitchen have worked behind the scenes with corner stores that have already begun offering fresh, nutritious foods through Healthy Corners to continue expanding their healthy food offerings, purchasing systems, and administrative capacity. Qualifying as a food retail vendor to accept WIC benefits is a multi-step process, and these small businesses needed technical assistance and support.
Healthy Corners established relationships with store owners has been instrumental in completing application requirements for small stores to apply to DC WIC. The partnership between DC Central Kitchen and DC WIC will improve food access, quality, and variety for residents living in neighborhoods that have long lacked adequate healthy food and vendor options, all while maximizing Federal WIC dollars and creating a much-needed win for small retailers in under-resourced neighborhoods.
In the 10 years since its launch, Healthy Corners has grown to distribute fresh produce and healthy options at 50 corner stores, primarily in areas where access to such foods are limited. Through sales data and customer surveys, the program has proven that consumers will buy nutritious food when it’s accessible, affordable, and dignified.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, DC Central Kitchen’s Healthy Corners has distributed over 335,000 units of fresh produce and healthy snacks to corner stores across DC, emphasizing the growing demand for fresh food options in these underserved communities.