Community organizations team up to bring new grocery store to Central Topeka

GraceMed and the Central Topeka Grocery Oasis Group have teamed up to bring a new grocery store to Central Topeka.
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 12:44 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - GraceMed and the Central Topeka Grocery Oasis Group have teamed up to bring a new grocery store to Central Topeka.

On Thursday, March 16, GraceMed Capitol Health Clinic announced that it signed a lease with the Central Topeka Grocery Oasis Group to lease one acre of land at 12th and Washburn Ave. - north of the clinic - as a building site for a new grocery store.

GraceMed said the formal lease was signed at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday at its 1400 SW Huntoon St. clinic. The agreement is meant to restore a grocery location for residents of Central Topeka.

“Our grassroots efforts for a grocery have gathered hardworking partners in the city, county and state focused on equity, justice and health for our neighbors,” said Marge Ahrens, CTGO chair. “We are grateful to GraceMed Health, and all who share in our celebration of the ability to build a community store on this excellent Central Topeka site. We will need many hands and hearts to fulfill this mission.”

Officials with GraceMed said they were excited to finalize the partnership.

“Our goal has always been to impact the communities we serve positively,” said Venus Lee, GraceMed CEO. “For many years this neighborhood has been a food desert, without access to nutritious food, which is needed to achieve optimal health. For this reason, it has been vital for us to support CTGO in its quest to be an answer to this problem. GraceMed is excited to finalize this partnership, which will be a critical step in healing the community. We pray that as this partnership grows, we will be able to develop a food voucher program for our patients, allowing them to embrace healthier eating habits. We strongly believe a grocery store in this neighborhood will significantly improve the lives of those here. I sincerely thank CTGO for their continued dedication to this shared vision.”

According to GraceMed, Central Topeka was home to a grocery store for nearly 90 years until it closed in 2016. The store stood on what is now the site occupied by the clinic.

Without fresh fruit, vegetables or meat sources within a mile for most residents of Central Topeka, officials said the area fits the federal definition of a “food desert” where residents have a higher risk of diet-related chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and even cancer.

Neighbors who organized in March 2018 as CTGO said they want to restore a sense of food security and community to the nine core neighborhoods of Central Topeka with a new grocery store to replace the one that closed. A new 14,000-square-foot store will serve the needs of the culturally diverse, low-to-moderate-income residents with fresh and affordable food.

Officials indicated that the new store will recognize and respect WIC, SNAP and other lower-income food programs and offer community engagement. It will serve Topekans from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as employ them. It will include environmentally safe and energy-saving infrastructure and equipment to further increase savings.

The cohort said the move will remove food insecurity in a lower-income area of Topeka where 30% of homes fall below the federal poverty level and more than a third have an income of less than $25,000.

A recent Esri demographic and income profile found that 32% of residents in the area have one or more disabled family members in their homes and about 25% do not have access to a vehicle. Bus service is limited - and costly for some - while few groceries can be transported on the public service. The store is meant to meet residents where they are and provide healthy food as well as other services. Employees of nearby businesses would also be served.

CTGO said it continues to be generously supported by the community to help realize a dream of a new community grocery store. The largest grant to date was awarded $628,000 in November when the City designated federal American Recovery Plan Act funds for the purchase of refrigeration equipment.

Officials have not yet said when construction will start or when an open date has been planned.