The Food Trust, a nationally recognized nonprofit, is making Philadelphia a healthier city one corner store at a time.
Through The Healthy Corner Store Initiative, the Food Trust targets corner stores all over Philadelphia helping owners deliver healthy options to their customers.
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“The Healthy Corner Initiative has done a lot,” said Tiffany Strother, the manager of Shop and Save Dollar Plus. “It’s provided not only healthy options but we get a lot of recipe cards and a lot of people entertain things they normally wouldn’t entertain just because we have them.”
Strother said she thinks the initiative is an excellent source of proper nutrition for both children and adults. “Children can process everything better when they have the proper nutrition, but it’s extremely hard when most people can’t afford it,” Strother said. “And you know, change is good to start somewhere so I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
The program, which started with a pilot project in 2004 with a mere 40 bodegas, is partnered with over 600 corner stores ranging from North to South Philadelphia.
Juan Vila, a Healthy Corner Store representative, was part of the initiative since its start. Vila recalled when the initiative attempted to recruit corner stores citywide, visiting over 2,000.
“We gave them guidelines and the next step was to revisit the stores,” Vila said. “We did inventory to see what kind of changes they made and from there they received a $100 incentive check and also the marketing material.”
The program provides each store with marketing materials like healthy recipes, cue cards and equipment that will turn their store into a health-promoting business.
The main goal of the initiative is to motivate the awareness of healthy options, in order to make Philadelphia a city that has health-promoting businesses. In addition to targeting corner stores, the initiative tries to motivate youth and adults to purchase healthier items through classroom education.
The Healthy Corner Store Initiative representatives visit the stores at least once a month. The relationship that these representatives build is one of the key factors that make the program successful. They train store owners, teaching them how to deliver fresh and healthy products.
“In a normal day, I’m out in the field visiting,” said Vila. “It can be anywhere between 10 to 20 stores in a day.”
The basic and simple steps that corner stores must follow range from healthy food identification, inventory changes, conversions and business training for owners.
The representatives of the initiative also help store owners fill out applications for conversions. “We actually create a mini business plan with the stores before they receive a conversion,” Vila said.
The program focuses on neighborhoods in impoverished communities and “food desserts,” areas that lack supermarkets making these “bodegas” their only food source. Most of these food desserts are located in North Philadelphia. The initiative provides these communities with access to healthy products.
“It’s been approximately a year since we started the program, and it has been a success,” said Danny Ureña, the owner of J&D Mini Market. “It’s especially good because children take a healthy product like fruit rather than taking something high in sugar that will affect them.”
The initiative targets the parts of Philadelphia where families who have the lowest amount of income live, according to the U.S. Census data available. Of the participating corner stores, 92 percent are located in the poorest areas, such as parts of North and West Philadelphia.
“Since we started the program, I sell 30 and 40 food plates a day. We prepare them with watermelon, grapes and cantaloupe and they are really popular,” Ureña said.
The Food Trust partners with The Philadelphia Department of Public Health and their Get Healthy Philly Initiative to implement the Philadelphia Healthy Corner Store Initiative.
Vila said he believes that the Healthy Corner Store Initiative is making Philadelphia a healthier city already. “I’ve seen so many more children walking around with healthier food as opposed to drinking hugs,” Vila said.
Vila noted the positive impact on several stores income, “Many of the stores in the initiative have seen an increase in their sales since they started the program.”
The Philadelphia Healthy Corner Network is part of The Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s two-year, $15 million cooperative agreement to promote nutrition and increase physical activity funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.