An aerial view of a small, coastal village

The village of Diomede is coming together to build a new grocery store this summer. While the plans are still in development stages, community involvement is strong.

Diomede’s former grocery store was deemed unable to take the rigors of winter and had to be taken down in 2020. The lack of a grocery store left a hole in the community, especially in years of low subsistence when other food sources were unreliable. Diomede’s plan to build a new, energy efficient, grocery store is one of several building projects that the village community undertook for 2021.

Without a running grocery store, Diomede stocks groceries at its local Catholic church. The church is ill equipped to store groceries, so the residents of Diomede resolved to build a new store. They obtained funding through tribal grants and various programs to start the brand-new structure. Funders include the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, the Department of Energy and the Rasmuson Foundation. The community’s dedication and strong funding from other programs inspired the Rasmuson’s grant of $250,000 dollars, Rasmuson Foundation spokesperson Alexandra McKay said.

What we really look for is community engagement. Which we saw. There was a lot of volunteer work that was done when they had to move food into the Catholic church and operate the grocery store of out of it. We saw the CDQ funding. They have a standby line of credits. They have some really strong pending grants going on. So, once we see that, and we saw some really significant leadership, that’s when we feel like a grant is appropriate. And they really met all of the conditions,” McKay said.

Diomede approached the Rasmuson Foundation with a proposal after making some financial preparations of their own.

They’ve done a really great job in putting together some funding. They’ve received significant support from the Norton Sound Development Corporation, the local CDQ, which is really great to see,” McKay said.

Residents expected to start building last year, but difficulties delayed the process, since all building materials must reach Diomede by barge. Francis Ozenna, Diomede’s Tribal Coordinator and Staff and Financial manager of the construction project, anticipates that the project will finish next year.

So soon as the barge gets here, it will probably go on as long as, maybe March. And then complete-you know- during the next summer,” Ozenna said.

The jobsite is open, all applications to build are in, and the local crew is on standby. They just need something to build with.

As for stocking the store, Ozenna states plans to fill the store are still in early stages, since Diomede’s remote location presents difficulties.

“To restock the new store, that’s still in a planning phase, we’re hoping, before open house, to get all our orders processed with Anica,” Ozenna said.

It is especially difficult to get produce and processed meats on barges to Diomede. They probably will have to consider working with a second vendor. Stocking plans will be more concrete by January or February, Ozenna said.

Diomede overcame many challenges to set this project in motion. Ozenna commends the community for their efforts.

“It’s something that, I think, gives communities hope. Regardless of how high the needs are, and you feel like you can’t reach them. Once you start working together everybody has their own ideas, their own opinions, their own input that kind of helps us make it more real. And then working with a whole group of people that are just focused on Diomede’s needs. Really does a difference,” Ozenna said.

Diomede’s other projects include housing construction, a powerhouse and electric distribution, backhaul and beach repair, and a facility for heavy equipment.

Image at top: Ariel view of the island community of Diomede. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer Richard Brahm.