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Family Dollar rat infestation prompts call for multi-level investigations

“How in the world did this happen?”

Add 1,000-plus dead rats to the need for an answer and you’ve locked in on the outrage directed toward Family Dollar by local leaders and officials about unsanitary conditions at the company’s West Memphis warehouse.

More than 400 Family Dollar retail stores remain closed in six states across the Mid-South after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a scathing report from an inspection concluded on Feb. 11.

More than 1,000 dead rats were left rotting in the facility after a major fumigation last year. According to the company’s internal records, more than 2,300 rodents infested the facility between March and September of 2021, said the FDA.

Decaying rodents and dead birds with copious droppings all over the facility prompted immediate retail closings.

At a Monday (Feb. 21) press conference across from the Family Dollar store at Airways Blvd. and Lamar Ave., Memphis Branch NAACP Executive Director Vickie Terry and Shelby County Commissioner Reginald Milton joined State Rep. G.A. Hardaway in calling for an investigation of the filth and contamination at the Family Dollar facility.

“How in the world did this happen?” Hardaway asked.

“Why was this allowed to go on? Hundreds and hundreds of dead and live rats, hundreds and hundreds of dead and live birds; that’s ridiculous. It’s not a condition that sets up overnight. It’s a corporate culture, which has taken place for years.”

Family Dollar responded to FDA’s findings by issuing a voluntary recall of certain products purchased between Jan. 1, 2021 and the present. The company said it was not aware of any resulting illness reported by employees or consumers.

The New Tri-State Defender made several calls to the corporate headquarters in Matthew, North Carolina to discuss the FDA findings. None had been returned by press deadline.

Shelby County Commissioner Reginald Melton called on Family Dollar to “treat people with the level of dignity and respect they deserve.” (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

Milton said the closing of 61 Memphis stores creates a hardship on those who live in food deserts, acknowledging that Family Dollar was the only option for many.

“This is a desert,” said Milton. We know that people need more resources.… As elected officials, we should be held accountable for addressing these issues. And we are not asking this business for anything that we don’t ask of any other business. And that is to treat people with the level of dignity and respect they deserve.”

Terry said Family Dollar needs to make sure they clean up.

Vickie Terry, executive director of the Memphis Branch NAACP, details what she has seen at Family Dollar locations. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

“I can pass by different locations and see the trash piled up, garbage cans overflowing, and people are calling in,” said Terry.

“We have grants to decrease blight, decrease crime and improve the community. Uplift Grants are available for these issues.”

Hardaway vowed to ask the Tennessee Department of Health and Human Services for resources to assist families replacing recall products and to help employees needing unemployment benefits.

“I want to see about getting some of that billion dollars in reserve being saved until a rainy day for the poor,” said Hardaway. “I say to you today, it’s raining, it’s storming. Our community is already underwater.”

Hardaway said an investigation is needed to determine who dropped the ball.

“We want to know what the Tennessee Department of Health has been doing. “We want to know what the Tennessee Department of Labor, particularly the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has been doing, and why employee complaints were not pursued in a more aggressive way.”

The six states affected are: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

Inspectors reported “evidence of gnawing, nesting, and rodent odors throughout the facility,” and improperly stored products.

The FDA launched the investigation after receiving a customer complaint. Distribution halted shortly after the probe began.

Local activist Patricia Rogers, who said she has complained about the filth at Family Dollar for three years, asserted that Family Dollar “does not treat us like family.”

Recalled products are listed at: www.familydollar.com.

Employees who have been afraid to voice complaints should reach out to a trusted official, Hardaway said.

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