Although this year will mark 11 years since Hurricane Katrina and its devastation, local grocer Burnell Colton still says “There’s no place like New Orleans.”
Nearly 79 percent of New Orleans has been revived since the floodwaters left the city desolate, but portions of Colton’s old neighborhood in the Lower Ninth Ward still remain a ghost town.
“If you had the stores and the communities, people would come back,” Colton said in a video linked to his GoFund Me account that was posted a few months ago.
Out of Colton’s desire to restore his childhood neighborhood, he spent all his savings to build the Lower 9th Ward Market by hand — from the skeleton of a former two-story structure that was ripped to shreds by Katrina, according to the Washington Post.
Cotlon’s market, which has been open for a year, is in the middle of what’s known as a food desert — defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a place devoid of stores selling healthy foods, typically in a low-income area where many residents do not have access to cars.
“Imagine if you don’t have a car and you have three or four kids,” he said. “You have to get on those buses with those kids and then get to Walmart and go up and down those aisles. Now you have to get back on those buses with those kids and bags,” Colton said.
Once Colton moved back to the Lower 9th Ward, he contacted local grocery chains like Walmart, Winn-Dixie and Rouses, with hopes of them building a store in his area, he told the Washington Post. The closest grocery store was a Walmart in the next parish, which took three buses, he said.
The Lower 9th Ward Market is the only grocery store in the neighborhood. Colton’s sweet shop next door is the only place to grab a New Orleans staple, a famous shaved ice sno-ball.
Colton’s efforts even caught the attention of New Orleans native Ellen DeGeneres, who brought him to Los Angeles last fall to appear on her daytime talk show — and donated washers and dryers so he could open a laundromat.
Colton’s GoFund Me account, which was created a few months ago, has already generated more than 60,000 donations. His goal is to reach 80,000. He believes that in addition to bringing food in the area, his market will also bring back residents and other businesses to a neighborhood that feels forgotten.