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Cornering the Market

July 9th, 2011 - By Therese Madden

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Neighborhood corner stores are often an oasis of snack foods and sugary drinks, but a new initiative brings healthy foods to these stores.


Caption: Herman Strother outside of his store in West Philadelphia.

The corner store. In some Philadelphia neighborhoods, it seems there’s one on every block. Kids stop in for snacks, neighbors gossip, and more often than not the shelves are stocked with chips and other junk food.

But one organization is trying to change this, “we wanted to work with corner stores to engage them as an ally in creating healthier communities,” says Brianna Almaguer Sandoval.

Healthy Corner Store Initiative Sign

She’s the project manager for the Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative. It’s a program funded by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, which also funds WHYY’s Fit. Sandolva also says these stores can play a crucial role in their communities, “many residents depend on corner stores for their food purchases this is particularly important in communities that don’t have access to supermarkets so many of the residents are going there for their food purchases everyday.”

The Initiative offers financial incentives to store owners who are willing to add at least 4 new healthy products to their shelves. Food Trust recruiters, such as Juan Vila visit corner stores throughout the city. Vila says, “basically a large part of my job is to go to the corner stores, talk to the owners about being part of our program, and kind of help them get setup with places to find healthier items and things like that.”

Food Trust Recruiter Juan Vila

Being bilingual is a plus for this job. Juan is checking in with Julio Alberta Peralta, who owns a bodega in North Philly. Peralta signed up for the program 2 months ago.

With a proud grin, he’s shows Juan the fruits and veggies he’s added: bananas, potatoes, plantains and pineapples to name a few. Peralta remembers what produce he offered just 2 months ago, “before only lettuce, tomatoes and pickles, that’s it.”

Peralta’s gone above and beyond the requirement needed to receive the $100 incentive check. There’s no supermarket nearby and Peralta says new customers are coming for the produce, “its good for me, that everbody is coming, they buy fruit, buy milk, buy everything, they come in for fruit, they buy juice, buy chips, everything.”

Before leaving, Juan puts up some signs about making healthy food choices. Stores have to display this material to receive the incentive.

Back in the car, I ask Juan how he feels about Peralta’s enthusiasm. Vila says Peralta’s enthusiasm is “surprising, especially with how hesitant a lot of the owners were at first to sign on to the program, a lot of them took a lot of convincing, and going from that kind of hesitation to having a whole section of fruits and vegetables is an amazing transformation to see.”

Julio Alberta Peralta inside his bodega in North Philly

Approximately 430 stores have signed up for the program so far. Across town, Herman Strother runs a store in West Philadelphia. He signed up, but was skeptical about selling perishable fruits and vegetables. He’s opted for choices like whole grains and low-fat dairy instead.

Strother says before the Food Trust came along, he thought about offering healthier products but he didn’t think it was practical. “It was a price thing. Some of the foods, the healthier foods were just out of price point for the neighborhood demographics that we’re in. We tried to bring small things in, here and there before the program, but it just wasn’t working.”

Strother realizes the impact his store has on the community and he wants to make a difference. Strother says, “I just think it’s a really good move for the neighborhood, a lot of the kids are out of shape and overweight, you gotta start small with them, so I think if you do this when they are younger, being introduced to healthier products, it will make it a lot easier when they get older to enjoy them and want them.”

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Get Healthy Philly is part of the Communities Putting Prevention to Work Initiative, a federal effort to: prevent and delay chronic disease, reduce risk factors, promote wellness in children and adults, and provide positive sustainable health change in our communities.

Food Fit Philly is part of Get Healthy Philly, a program that works to reduce and prevent obesity and related chronic diseases (like heart disease and diabetes) by increasing access to healthy foods that people can afford.

Your body needs help when it's time to quit. SmokeFree Philly is a program of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health that offers support and tools to help smokers quit. The goal of SmokeFree Philly is to: help people to quit smoking, stop people from starting to use tobacco, and reduce heart disease, cancer and other illnesses caused by smoking.

Philly Food Bucks!
Philly Food Bucks are coupons that help ACCESS/food stamp customers save money on fruits and vegetables. Philly Food Bucks can be redeemed for $2 worth of fruits and vegetables for every $5 spent in ACCESS/food stamps at a participating farmers' market. Learn more about Philly Food Bucks at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health's recently expanded web site Food Fit Now also accepted at the West Oak Lane Weaver's Way Food Coop.