Feeding the Needs: Breaking Bread

The latest on the Northside Food Co-op effort

Food Cierra Washington 1

When it comes to filling plates, these area women are tackling the issues.

From increasing access to fresh produce to reducing food waste, here are some of the groups – and their leaders – tackling local food systems to make them more bountiful for all.

CIERRA WASHINGTON is striving to eliminate the food desert in Wilmington’s Northside. JORDYN APPEL-HUGHES is strengthening the region’s food infrastructure.  And MALLORY WEEKS is helping students learn how to turn waste into compost and conserve resources.

  • Waste Not, Want Not: To learn more about elementary school teacher, Mallory Weeks, click here.
  • Growth Market: Click here to read more on Feast Down East grows fresh food access.

Food Cierra Washington 2

Northside Food Co-op staffers Qailinn Bowen (from left), Sarah Casey-Summers, Cierra Washington, and Marsel McFadden (not shown is Shaquana Knowlin)

CIERRA WASHINGTON discovered that her mission was to help people while she was in college. Currently, she is fulfilling that goal at the Northside Food Co-op, where she has worked as a full-time staff member since 2020. The co-op aims to bring a full-service grocery store to the Northside of downtown Wilmington, providing food security and addressing the area’s food desert.

“I love taking care of people,” Washington says. “I love Wilmington, and I want to live in a space that supports everyone and where everyone’s basic needs are met.”

When Washington was named the co-op’s project manager in 2022, she readily shouldered its many challenges. First, she had to regain support for the grocery store, which had waned during COVID.

In addition to holding listening sessions to learn what residents wanted in a grocery store, Washington strolled around Northside neighborhoods engaging residents in friendly (and informative) conversation and handing out free baskets of fresh fruit – an activity she continues to do when she has free time.

“I have to meet people and build trust,” Washington says. “I want people to know this is here and that I’m not going away.”

The store is planned for the corner of 10th and Fanning streets. The city of Wilmington donated the land, and New Hanover County is covering construction costs.

Washington also took a leading role in establishing Frankie’s Outdoor Market, the co-op’s weekly farmers market. While the market is intended to be a stopgap measure until the grocery store is built, it has become so popular that Washington is moving it to a city park.

Washington, however, wants to build more than a grocery store. So, she created, with her staff, the co-op’s free dinner gatherings.

“People need to eat the food to know what it’s like, and they need to know each other,” Washington says. “We are creating community.”

While the dinners bring neighbors together, they also support the Northside’s small businesses. The co-op buys ingredients from local shops, and store owners donate their time and labor.

Though a grocery store is still a good two years away due to its hefty price tag, Washington is undaunted. In addition to her other duties, she writes grants and will hold a capital fundraising campaign this October through December.

“I’m doing what I can to make the community part of the project,” she says. “When my community is good, I am good.”


To view more of photographer Daria Amato’s work, go to dariaphoto.com.

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Categories: Features