Walmart’s Closure Leaves Some Without Access To Affordable Groceries

Portland, Ore. – The last two Walmart locations in Portland closed on March 24. The super store said it’s closing the locations at Hayden Meadows, in North Portland and at East Portland Plaza on 82nd Avenue. Sharing in a statement: “after a careful review of their overall performance. We consider many factors, including current and projected financial performance, location, population, customer needs, and the proximity of other nearby stores.”

Some activists working to fight hunger are concerned by Walmart’s decision. Amid ongoing inflation, and the end of the COVID-19 emergency SNAP benefits, which provided $71 million in extra food benefits to roughly 400,000 Oregon families, many households rely on the retailer for cheap groceries and supplies. Expressing that the surrounding area will now become a “Food Desert.”

“We’re in the worst state of hunger in almost a century,” said Susanna Morgan, The CEO at Oregon Food Bank. “It [hunger] absolutely spiked with the pandemic and the following economic disruption. Then the end of other COVID benefits, inflation, and now as last nail in the coffin, the government is shutting down the additional money they put on SNAP cards.”

That’s equal to about a loss of $95 in purchasing power for an individual, and about a 40% cut in what families were receiving. The Walmart’s are closing in some of Portland’s lower income neighborhoods. The Mt Scott-Arleta and Lents neighborhood in Southeast is likely to be most impacted with no grocery alternatives nearby. Leaving residents with mostly gas-station, type markets to serve as their neighborhood food source.

“We use the term food desert to designate a neighborhood where folks do not have easy access to nutritious and affordable food. Making them have to travel great distances to get their basic needs met,” said Sarah Weber-Ogden the Co-Executive Director of Community Food Justice with Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon. “Having Walmart as an accessible source for fresh and affordable food close is going to leave families without access to basic necessities.”

Weber-Ogden adds that these deserts are most likely to occur in neighborhoods that are predominantly people of color.

“We are talking about two Walmart locations that are adjacent to neighborhoods where the majority Portland’s residents of color do reside.”

Lents ranks in the bottom 10 of Portland neighborhoods for food insecurity, and Mt Scott-Arleta contains some of the most rent-burdened Portlanders. While the St. Johns, Portsmouth, Piedmont and Kenton neighborhoods in North Portland, near the other Walmart location that’s closing, all have median household incomes at, or well below the city’s average.

“What it takes to feed a family on a very minimal budget is not available at a mini-mart or a bodega,” said Weber-Ogden. “And you may say, well there’s still a Safeway or a Fred Meyer near by, but the cost difference between those two and a Walmart is astronomical. It is going to deeply affect families ability to put the same amount of food in their pantries.”

The Oregon Food Bank is expecting an increased amount of people seeking assistance in 2023. Morgan says they’ve become more resilient since the pandemic.

“Oregon was one of the few states in the nation that never saw those football field sized groups of cars waiting hours and hours for food,” Morgan said. “If we could do it then, when everyone was worried about their health, and kids health and grandparents, we can do it now.”

Though on March 27, the state announced some help would be on the way for families struggling to purchase groceries. The Oregon Department of Human Services is rolling out $170 million to provide extra pandemics to 434,000 children. Households will start receiving notification letters at the end of the month.

ODHS wrote in a statement:  “As communities continue to be affected by COVID-19 and the rising cost of food, we know that many families are experiencing hardship and are struggling to get enough healthy food for themselves and their children.”