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Community organization stepping in after Westown Aldi closes

Gem City Market stepping in after Westown Aldi closes (WKEF/WRGT)

DAYTON, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - For as long as it stood in West Dayton, the Aldi in Westown Shopping Center left overnight. Monday evening, the signs were gone, the store windows were taped over and the usually busy parking lot was empty.

Aldi’s closure fuels a familiar problem for the Hall Hunger Initiative.

"One grocery store should not devastate a community, but we've seen that happen both on the east and west side,” said manage Etana Jacobi.

According to their mission statement, the Hall Hunger Initiative was formed in December 2015 in partnership with the United Way of the Greater Dayton Area and support of the Jack W. and Sally D. Eichelberger Foundation. The goal of the Hall Hunger Initiative is to systematically address the issue of hunger by collaborating with community stakeholders to reduce food insecurity and increase food access.

As Jacobi explained to Fox 45’s Shavon Anderson, food insecurity is a complex issue not just about having a store close by.

"You could be food insecure and live right next to a grocery store because you don't have the money to actually purchase the food there,” she said.

Understanding the issue is hard when you’ve never faced. To get perspective, Fox 45 down with Amaha Sellassie, who chairs the board for Dayton’s Gem City Market and also teaches at Sinclair Community College.

Sellassie uses a simple simulation to get his students to realize the connections between food deserts and insecurity.

"They have to go to a store that's within one mile of their house,” he said.

It can be a grocery store, gas station or convenience store.

"We have a list of items like bread, milk, meat and fresh vegetables.”

The only goal is to find everything on the list. This year, the simulation mirrored current events.

"One of my students, who lives close to Aldi, came up to me on Friday. He was like, you know what? I should go to Aldi before they close because it's right by my house,” Sellassie said.

That student found out that one wasn’t an issue before, now is.

"He's going to have to take two buses to go all the way up to the Kroger on Siebenthaler."

So, how does the city fix the problem? Gem City Market, and up-and-coming community co-op, is trying to fill gaps. The idea is to rely less on corporations that can pack up and leave.

"If we own it, we're going to want to keep it in our community,” said Lela Klein, executive director of the Dayton Union Co-op Initiative.

"We already have over 860 community members who actually own the Gem City Market."

The market hopes to start construction on a brick-and-mortar space later this year, and open sometime in 2019. While they’ll only extend to the lower Salem Ave. community, Klein hopes the idea will catch on in other communities and that residents to come together to invest in themselves.

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