Rural citizens concerned about limited resources during COVID-19 pandemic

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LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ala. – Many people in larger cities and towns are concerned about the threat of COVID-19. Some people in Courtland, Alabama are more concerned about the resources they’re losing due to the threat of the virus.

Courtland has a population of about 600 people. Many of the citizens have spent their entire lives in the town.

“When we started talking about COVID-19 coronavirus, people just didn’t really understand what it was, but you could tell they were concerned about it,” explained Chris Neloms, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Courtland.

Neloms recently closed the doors of his church to protect the congregation. He said while his church is located in Courtland, only about 10 percent of the church’s members actually live in town. Other congregants commute from all over North Alabama. Neloms said his council believed the best way to prevent people from potentially being exposed was to cancel services.

Churches serve as community resource centers for many people. And while the closure of First Baptist Church limits some resources, an even bigger issue is the local grocery store. 

Food Valu, a neighborhood grocer located on Jackson Street, closed its doors just days ago. A sign posted on the automatic sliding doors says the following:

Attention all Food Valu customers: Due to the coronavirus we will be CLOSED until further notice. Sorry, Management.”

Food Valu is the only grocery store in Courtland.

‘The closest grocery store to us would have to be in Moulton, that’s 12 miles away,” explained Brenda Hampton, Courtland resident and community activist. “If we go to Decatur that’s 19 miles away. And if we go to Colbert County, Muscle Shoals, that’s 21 miles away. So it’s really devastating for this area here.”

Norris Wiggins has worked at Food Valu for years and while he is out of work he feels even worse for his community.

“People need help. We need a grocery store here in Courtland, Alabama,” he explained. “We don’t want to go to Muscle Shoals, Florence, Moulton, Decatur, or Sheffield to get groceries. You’d burn a lot of gas like that.”

WHNT News 19 tried contacting the store owners to see why they made the decision to close during this time but received no answer. Community members said in recent years the store was rented out to owners who don’t live in town.

By locking the doors, the lack of access to fresh produce and healthy options has essentially made Courtland a food desert.

‘We don’t want to feel left out. And right now, a lot of the calls I’m getting people are feeling left out,” said Hampton.

She said residents need nutritious options if they want a fighting chance in the event COVID-19 ends up in their county.

“In our area, we have a lot of people who are really at risk,” said Hampton. “I’m an at risk person myself because I have a weakened immune system.”

Hampton said Courtland has always been home for a lot of people. And for many of the citizens, their finances won’t allow them to simply pick up and move.

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