A community-led coalition tasked with creating opportunities for those residing in Buffalo’s “food deserts” to gain better access to affordable, locally grown produce will celebrate another milestone today.
Spearheaded by The John R. Oishei Foundation’s Mobile Safety Net Team, the Healthy Corner Store Initiative is an effort to encourage corner store owners to offer their customers fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown locally, while also educating customers on healthy eating habits. The P2 Collaborative purchases coolers for the stores to stock produce from local distributors, while Cornell Cooperative Extension’s East Smart New York program provides the community education component by sharing healthy eating tips, taste tests and cooking demonstrations.
In January 2016, the Initiative launched at two corner stores – Food Plus Market at 414 Amherst Street and Buff City Exclusive at 90 Lisbon Avenue. Today, the Mandela Market at 272 East Ferry and Trade Fair Food Mart at 1345 East Delavan Avenue will join the roster. The group will host a grand opening ceremony today at the Mandela Market from 3:00-5:00 p.m.
“Nearly 130,000 residents of Erie County live in lower-income communities with limited access to healthy food options,” said Annie Todd, Community Impact Coordinator for the Mobile Safety-Net Team and facilitator of the Healthy Corner Store Initiative group. “By making it possible for these two corner stores to offer healthy, affordable foods, we are ensuring families living and working in Buffalo, especially those on the East Side, have every opportunity to live healthier, longer lives. We know we can do better as a city and we now can say this is a start.”
Several studies have shown that many parts of the city’s East Side are food deserts, which the USDA defines as census tracts where at least 33 percent of the census tract’s population resides more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. According to Rita Hubbard-Robinson, Project Director from Millennium Collaborative Care, combating the lack of healthy food resources in Buffalo is not simply a matter of convenience for residents, but of addressing their social determinants of health.
“Buffalo, NY is ranked as the 4th poorest city in the country, with a poverty rate exceeding 30 percent. Creating a culture of health where there is affordable access to healthy food is extremely important,” she said. “Health disparities underscore the importance; Blacks and Hispanics living in Erie County have disproportionately high hospital admissions rates for diabetes-related conditions; 356.6 and 274.4 per 10,000 respectively. Strategies to increase access to healthful foods and improve health behaviors will improve health outcomes and the over utilization of hospitalization for avoidable chronic conditions”
Development and implementation of the Healthy Corner Store Initiative was supported by a coalition of community partners from the health, education, government and non-profit sectors. The group works with local community organizations, council members, and the police department to select corner stores that would be good candidates for the program. “We look at cleanliness of the store, crime in the area, customer service, community health statistics, USDA statistics and SNAP statistics,” said Todd. “Most importantly we assess the store owner’s interest in changing the health outcomes of the neighborhood.”
“We’ve been here for 30 years and after a while the community becomes your family and what you want for your family is what you want for the community. If you see a relative getting sick from eating unhealthy foods you would do something about it. This is our way of giving back to and looking out for our community,” said Adel Munassar, owner of Trade Fair Food Market.
Store owners have the option to purchase produce from the local distributor of their choice. Community Action Organization’s Greenhouse Program and Urban Fruits and Veggies signed on as suppliers, as well as the Clinton-Bailey Market. A mid year evaluation of the program showed that customers were happy with pricing and quality of produce, but they are still looking for more variety as the program expands. By buying produce from local growers, store owners won’t have to pay for transportation and storage of produce being grown elsewhere and the dollars spent stay here in the local community.
To learn more about the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, visit www.healthycornerstorewny.org.