Dorchester residents gathered last Thursday at Codman Square’s Great Hall for a community forum discussing the upcoming opening of a Daily Table store at 450 Washington Street, a space currently owned by the Codman Square Health Center.
The storefront would be leased by the Health Center to the Urban Food Initiative, a sponsor of the project.
“The Health Center has always been holistic in its approach to care,” said Sandra Cotterell, CEO of the Codman Square Health Center, “so this would be one more option that we could kind of build around our clinical services in terms of wellness.”
The Daily Table is the brainchild of former Trader Joes executive Doug Rauch, who attended the forum and answered community members’ questions. Forty percent of food grown in the United States, Rauch said, is wasted. The Daily Table’s mission is to recycle potential food waste into healthy, prepared meals that will be available to the community for fast food prices.
“Hunger and obesity exist in the same neighborhood, sometimes the same person,” Rauch said, “It’s no longer an issue of calories, but of nutrition.”
Using a nonprofit model, Rauch’s Daily Table will take excess, overstocked, and food just past its sell by date from major grocers and recycle it into meals at its own facility. Sell by dates, Rauch said, are very conservative and rarely indicate food quality and safety. Many foods, he said, are not only edible, but also nutritious after their sell by dates.
Some community members were skeptical that the food’s safety could be guaranteed beyond its sell by date, and feared that such a model would perpetuate negative stereotypes about the Dorchester community. Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey called it “inverse gentrification” and feared advancing the idea that Dorchester residents only buy poor quality food.
“I have a problem with the model,” he said, “and you have to ask what effect this is going to have on many of our food banks. If food’s not going to food banks, it’s going here. Are we going to have less for the truly needy?”
Overall, though community members met the idea with enthusiasm. Questions were asked about the potential job opportunities and training that may come from the store’s opening. Rauch said that he would offer employees a starting salary of $12 an hour, and that all full-time employees would be offered off-site training.
“It’s really critical the Daily Table is preferential to hiring from the community where it is placed,” Rauch said. “It keeps the money is the community.”
He also stressed that it makes good business sense to hire locally, as it expands the customer base and increases the store’s chance for success.
The forum was sponsored by the Dorchester Health Coalition, a Boston Foundation funded initiative to promote healthy eating and a healthy environment. Toni Wiley, executive director of the Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center moderated the event.