At a small corner store in northeast Washington, Nola Liu, a community-outreach officer with the D.C. Central Kitchen, whirled around a deli case with a clipboard in hand, passing out a recipe for cinnamon pear crisps to anyone who would take it.
She thrust a card at a man in a blue knit hat who was on his way out.
“Are you gonna make it for me?” he asked.
“No, you have to make it yourself,” she responded.
“I’m not much of a baker,” he said, and walked out.
Fresh pears are a relatively new arrival at this store, which is called Thomas & Sons. Just a few months ago, the extent of its produce selection was a small refrigerated case holding a few forlorn fruits and onions, all going at a premium. The owner, Jae Chung, was reluctant to stock things like tomatoes, which would often go bad while they lingered on the shelves.
Now, a brand-new refrigerated vegetable case sits front and center amid all the beer and bulletproof glass. ("I have some unruly customers," Chung explains.) Inside are apples, lemons, limes, and grapes packaged neatly in plastic containers. Additional baskets hold potatoes and bananas. The case was provided by the D.C. Central Kitchen as part of their Healthy Corners program, which seeks to expand the fruit and vegetable offerings in corner stores across the District.
Not only did the nonprofit give Chung the fridge for free, it will also replace any items that go bad at no extra cost. They sell the greens to him for cheap, too. Chung says before, he had to buy his fresh produce stock at Costco and pick it up himself. After he added in his markup, a tomato at Thomas & Sons would sell for about $2.50. Now, it’s more like $1 to $1.50—on par with what someone might pay for a bag of chips or package of donuts. (At Walmart, a pack of four tomatoes goes for $2.48, or about 60 cents per tomato.)