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Safeway workers partner with community on health fair

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Like any community organizer looking to raise corporate support for an event, Lisa Colbert, a newly elected Ward 4 Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative, had knocked on the doors of 20 businesses for the health fair she was planning.

Canvas bags from Cardinal Bank. Check. A $50 coupon from Blair Mansion. Check. A venue sponsored by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. Check. Radio plugs on WHUR. Check.

With only a few rejections, she marched up to the Safeway in Petworth one afternoon and spoke to store manager Matthew Brown, who was used to these proposals.

“I get a lot churches that are having food drives and clothing drives, which we do,” said Brown. Most requests, he said, are “geared to helping community deficit, whereas Ward 4 just understood there was a massive problem in the area, that people weren’t being tested for their health.”

Within a few minutes and a couple phone calls, he was in.

Three weeks later, Brown and a handful of employees were grilling $700 worth of chicken and salt-free veggies while handing out healthy recipes to nearly 150 residents at the recent Petworth Community Awareness Day at Emery Recreation Center in Northwest Washington.

Organized by the Ward 4 ANC and Howard University, the event offered residents free health screenings, yoga classes, HIV counseling and basketball and kickball tournaments. The local fire department did CPR demonstrations while Fonzie the clown wowed the audience when he made water disappear.

“We really encourage our stores to partner with local community groups,” said Greg Ten Eyck, spokesman for Safeway’s eastern division.

Georgetown’s Safeway held a mayor’s candidate forum during the last election and regularly submits requests to its foundation committee to allow nonprofits to set up booths in front of the store.

The supermarket chain’s corporate philanthropy focuses on hunger relief, education, health and human services and people with disabilities. Last year it gave $7.8 million in company donations to charities in the Washington metropolitan region.

Brown, who has also adopted Takoma Education Center — occasionally providing free lunch for staff meetings — also speaks regularly to local students about career paths.

“It’s a way of giving back,” he said. “The children in the community are going to be the shoppers of tomorrow so it’s important for us to connect with them.”

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