The folks from the Healthy Corner Store Initiative are making Philly’s neighborhoods healthier one orange, one head of lettuce, one low-fat gallon of milk, one whole-wheat loaf of bread, and one corner store at a time. Since its 11-store North Philly pilot program was launched in 2007 to make healthy foods more available at corner stores, more than 500 stores have signed on. It’s uplifting how, with the addition of one refrigerator and one wooden table per store, an entire neighborhood can benefit from fresh produce and healthy snack selections. HCSI staff visits stores across the city to find interested merchants. To get involved at the most basic level, a store owner must agree to carry four new healthy products—one fruit, one veggie, one low-fat dairy and one whole-wheat item. They also must participate in a healthy-food marketing campaign aimed at guiding customers to make healthier decisions at the corner store.
For stores that produce high results, HCSI offers more advanced levels of involvement that include in-store training about how to properly manage healthy food. So far, 20 stores have participated in the mini-conversion, the highest level of collaboration, with 6 more stores in the pipeline. These stores, all with a healthy track record of healthy sales, have seen the installation of a five-shelf refrigeration unit and a large shelf for displaying produce. In partnership with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Get Healthy Philly initiative, the FT plans to expand the corner store initiative to include 1,000 stores.
Sponsored by the Food Trust and founded in 2004, the program grew out of a FT in-school education initiative. From that work, the FT learned the impact of corner stores on children’s diets. They wondered whether a change in the environment of those stores would have an impact on children’s diets, says Brianna Sandoval, HCSI project manager. In 2009, A Temple University Center for Research and Obesity Education Center study published in Pediatrics, showed that almost three out of every ten Philadelphia school students shop at corner stores twice a day, five days a week. The HCSI aims to educate those kids about the benefits of buying healthier snacks.
HCSI workers check in at each store every two weeks. Staffer Eric Hilkowitz struggled to find words to express “the look of joy on the store owner’s faces” when he comes around, when “they tell [him] how happy customers are about finally having local access to healthy foods,” and how happy the store owners are to serve this role in satisfying their customers. At the Christian Food Market at 23rd and Christian Streets, fifty fruit salads can go on a hot day. That’s an extra $150 a day in business for the owner. While that’s not yet a consistent pattern, it’s definitely a healthy sign. And when we’re treading the streets of Philly, it’s nice to know we can stop in a corner store and grab an apple. –Lou Mancinelli