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Rideshare discount gives seniors in Wards 7 and 8 temporary relief in a food desert

Florentine Jones calls a Lyft at a Giant supermakert in Southeast D.C. Lyft is temporarily giving seniors a discount to go grocery shopping in areas considered to be food deserts. (Jason Hornick for Express)

There was a time, when she was just 77, when Florentine Jones could twirl and throw a shot put.

Now 78, and with a new pacemaker, Jones won’t be tossing a weight like she has in the past at the annual DC Senior Games.

But she sings in a choir, works on puzzles and belongs to a sewing group, so she needs her grapes and bananas to keep up her energy, she said last Thursday.

Easter was also coming, so she needed eggs to make Easter eggs for the grandchildren.

But one of the challenges of living in a low-income area is that it’s hard to find places to buy eggs, grapes or bananas. The supermarket closest to her subsidized senior apartment complex in Ward 8 is a Giant, which she would have to walk a mile-and-a-half to reach, or take the bus with all of her groceries.

So, until recently, whenever she needed groceries, she’d pay another of the seniors in her complex $20 or $25 to drive her.

A 2017 study by the D.C. Policy Center found that 80 percent of food deserts in the District — where residents do not have easy access to groceries — were in Wards 7 and 8 in Southeast.

The study defined food deserts as areas with no grocery stores in walking distance, where most people do not have cars, and the median income is too low to be able to afford alternatives like Lyft or Uber. There are no such areas in wealthier Ward 3 in Northwest and only one in Ward 2.

“We’ve been left out of a lot of things,” said Jones. She’s lived in the area for all of a life that’s seen changes. She grew up in a house with outdoor bathrooms. It was a time when colds were still treated with a drop of kerosene with a bit of sugar.

But last week she found herself calling up a Lyft with an app on her phone to go shopping.

It’s only temporary reprieve from life in a food desert. Since January, Lyft has been offering a discount to Jones and a limited number of seniors in the two Southeast wards on shared rides to shop for groceries. The fare: $1.50 each way.

The company has been offering a similar discount to families with children in Southeast elementary schools.

Jones used to work as a verifier for the U.S. Treasury, making sure the amount of money being made at the mint was correct. So when a car came, Jones checked the license plate. “Who are you picking up?” she asked, only getting in once the driver said her name.

“$1.50. It’s a blessing,” Jones said later in the dairy aisle, making sure the eggs in her cart were the same brand as her coupons.

Soon, though, it will cost more again to buy her groceries. The discount ends at the end of June.