In the country’s most rapidly gentrifying city, the existence of food deserts is almost unthinkable. Home to a constant influx of new dining concepts and gourmet mini-markets, it would seem food accessibility was at an all-time high. Yet, access to fresh food is still an obstacle for many living within the District’s borders.

East of the Anacostia River lies Wards 7 and 8, the final frontiers of the city’s development landscape. The area is predominately African American and plagued by poverty. A mystery to some, a menace to others, the area’s rich history of culture and community is often overlooked for narratives that highlight the ugliest of its inner-city truths. Though factual, nonetheless.

Ward 8 in particular, is home to 70,712 of the city’s residents according to the 2010 census, and suffers from the highest rates of poverty, food insecurity, obesity, and other chronic diseases.

Giant Food is the only full-service grocery store in all of Ward 8, and the only retailer going the extra mile to combat food insecurity.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Jillian Griffith, the 26-year-old nutritionist and registered dietitian recently hired to lead Giant’s efforts at its Congress Heights store.

As someone who struggled with childhood obesity, Jillian has been passionate about health from a young age. She credits the Summer Health Scholars Program at Columbia University with opening her eyes to the career possibilities in the field. She went on to receive her Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health (BSPH) in Nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and she attended Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, earning a Master of Science degree in Public Health (MSPH) focusing on Human Nutrition and completing the coordinated dietetics program to earn her Registered Dietitian (RDN) credentials.

As the Congress Heights nutritionist, Jillian is responsible for managing the store’s new wellness space, educating the community about healthy eating and buying habits, and working with local organizations to enhance food accessibility.

Giant is in the process of rolling out the first retailer-based produce prescription program, in collaboration with AmeriHealth and DC Greens, modeled after DC Greens’ existing Produce Plus initiative.

“We’ve partnered with five clinics in Ward 8. Patients who screen positive for food insecurity or are at risk for chronic diseases can get a prescription for fresh produce that can be redeemed at the pharmacy in this Giant. Program participants receive $20.00 in fresh produce a week, maxing out at $80.00 per month,” Griffith said.

This is but one of the initiatives the grocer has put in place. The wellness space will serve as the hub for Giant’s outreach, functioning as a home for collaborative programming with other organizations like Capital Area Food Bank and DC Greens, educational workshops like financial literacy that ultimately tie into eating right on a limited budget and neighborhood gatherings in general.

It’s Jillian’s hope that the Congress Heights Wellness Space will be fully embraced by the community, solidifying both herself and Giant as a resource and an ally to surrounding residents.

“I believe in the strength of the private sector,” Griffith said. “Government and policy can take a long time. But the private sector has a big footprint in the outcomes of our community. They are the ones stocking the shelves. So, it’s really about how I can work to increase the demand of healthy foods and influence those supplying the food to ensure people who need fresh foods the most have access.”

Until other retailers follow Giant’s example of community investment and cross the river in the spirit of public health, Giant has you covered. Visit to learn about upcoming events, get nutritional tips and listen to episodes of the Nutrition Made Easy podcast.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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