Truly healthier 'hoods?

Nu­tri­tion ini­ti­at­ives aim­ing to provide more ac­cess­ible and af­ford­able healthy food have popped up all over the River Wards. Star takes a look at five of them to find out what might help cre­ate a fit­ter Philly.


Bel­grade Del­icatessen own­er Kim­berly Flanagan said that Phil­adelphi­ans were simply raised to eat dif­fer­ently than oth­er Amer­ic­ans.

“Com­pare Philly to liv­ing down South,” she said. “They grew up eat­ing a fresh peach. We had peaches in heavy syr­up in a can.”

That might be true for many city res­id­ents. Sev­er­al areas in Phil­adelphia have long been seen as “food deserts”— that is, low-in­come areas without easy ac­cess to nu­tri­tious foods.

Wheth­er Phil­adelphi­ans’ di­ets are a res­ult of ac­cess­ib­il­ity, af­ford­ab­il­ity or simply taste, bad eat­ing habits have led to some alarm­ing stat­ist­ics—in 2010, 66 per­cent of adults and 40 per­cent of chil­dren in Phil­adelphia were over­weight or obese, ac­cord­ing to a 2011 re­port by the Phil­adelphia De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health.

There’s no doubt things have got­ten bad. But now, per­haps, Phil­adelphia has nowhere to go but up. ••

The Healthy Corner Store Ini­ti­at­ive

Flanagan, whose store is loc­ated at 1440 E. Columbia Ave., is one of many pro­pri­et­ors of what’s be­come a Phil­adelphia land­mark—the corner store.

In most of these stores, chips, candy and pro­cessed foods come cheap and easy to shop­pers. But lean meats and fruits and ve­get­ables? Not so much.

“It’s a very hard thing to ob­tain,” Flanagan said of fresh, healthy food. “It’s easi­er to sell things with a longer shelf life.”

And with some 2,500 corner stores in Phil­adelphia, many city res­id­ents simply have no ac­cess to any oth­er food source.

But Flanagan, like many oth­er storeown­ers in the city, is selling health­i­er food with the help of the Healthy Corner Stores Ini­ti­at­ive.

The Food Trust, a non­profit that works to in­crease food ac­cess for low-in­come Amer­ic­ans, has de­veloped the Healthy Corner Stores Ini­ti­at­ive in part­ner­ship with the Phil­adelphia De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health’s “Get Healthy Philly” cam­paign.

Bri­anna Al­maguer San­dov­al, seni­or as­so­ci­ate for The Food Trust, said there are cur­rently 630 stores in the net­work that have ad­ded at least four new healthy products to their shelves. One of those was Flanagan’s deli.

So far, Flanagan said, she’s seen that her healthy food is selling well.

“People are very happy,” she said. “More chil­dren are choos­ing grapes and wa­ter­mel­on and stuff.”

So why might a storeown­er not want to be­come a part of the net­work?

San­dov­al said that part of the reas­on might be the per­cep­tion that cus­tom­ers don’t want healthy products. Or it could be that some healthy food simply is more ex­pens­ive.

She said that Temple Uni­versity’s Cen­ter for Obesity Re­search is col­lect­ing data to de­term­ine wheth­er ac­cess to healthy food in corner stores really changes people’s eat­ing habits.

For now, storeown­ers like Flanagan are simply work­ing to give their cus­tom­ers more choices and make them aware of health­i­er products.

“There’s not enough edu­ca­tion,” Flanagan said. “A ba­nana is much cheap­er than a candy bar. It’s def­in­itely [about] edu­cat­ing people.”

Learn more about the Healthy Corner Store Ini­ti­at­ive or make your store a part of the net­work by vis­it­ing the­­grams/­paign.php. ••

Shop­Rite’s re­gistered di­eti­tian

Stephanie Perez has a unique job—she proves to shop­pers that nu­tri­tion and af­ford­ab­il­ity aren’t mu­tu­ally ex­clus­ive.

“You can eat healthy on a low budget,” she said. “Edu­cat­ing people on nu­tri­tious foods that cost less will help.”

As of May this year, Perez is the re­gistered di­eti­tian on staff at the Shop­Rite gro­cery store at 3745 Ara­mingo Ave.

“A lot of people in this area don’t have dir­ect ac­cess to health care or a di­eti­cian,” she said. “People know they need to be­come health­i­er, but they’re not sure how to go about it. I’m able to bridge that gap.”

Perez said she con­ducts “tast­ing tours,” dur­ing which she walks through the store’s aisles with cus­tom­ers to help them pick out health­i­er op­tions that they can taste at the end. She also con­ducts what might be the key factor in edu­cat­ing shop­pers—re­cipe demon­stra­tions.

Perez said the demos aim to show shop­pers how to make fa­mil­i­ar re­cipes with healthy changes. She’ll make a salsa with canned or jarred to­ma­toes that are free of ad­ded salt, or tur­key bur­gers.

She said the cost of products is im­port­ant, and noted that foods like beans and low-so­di­um canned ve­get­ables are healthy and in­ex­pens­ive op­tions.

“Every re­cipe I do, I in­clude items that are on sale that week. People that try it are more likely to pur­chase it be­cause it’s something they can af­ford,” she said.

All of Perez’s ser­vices are free of charge. To learn more about them and find out when her re­cipe demon­stra­tions or oth­er ser­vices are avail­able, call 267-566-7538, or email her at stephanie.perez@wake­ ••

PCA’s free pro­duce vouch­ers

On Ju­ly 9 this year, the Phil­adelphia Cor­por­a­tion for Aging launched its an­nu­al free food vouch­er pro­gram. Vouch­ers for $20 worth of loc­ally grown pro­duce and ve­get­ables were made avail­able to over 36,000 low-in­come seni­ors.

Sue Gib­son, nu­tri­tion man­ager for PCA, said that vouch­ers are avail­able at ap­prox­im­ately 30 seni­or cen­ters or com­munit­ies and at PCA it­self, at 642 N. Broad St.

Eli­gible seni­ors re­ceive four $5 vouch­ers that can be used un­til Novem­ber 30 this year at 13 farm­er’s mar­kets in North Phil­adelphia, as well as dozens of oth­ers around the city.

“It’s all part of an ef­fort to get more fresh fruits and ve­get­ables [to seni­ors],” Gib­son said. “It’s one drop in the buck­et, yes, but they are so ex­cited to be get­ting these vouch­ers, they’ll stand in line for an hour.”

St. Anne’s Seni­or Cen­ter, at 2607 E. Cum­ber­land St., re­ceived 500 pro­duce vouch­ers to dis­trib­ute. Its mem­bers can still pick up vouch­ers through Ju­ly 20 from 10 a.m. un­til noon.

Cass Jen­kins, 69, has been a mem­ber of the cen­ter for 10 years. She said she’s been col­lect­ing the pro­duce vouch­ers for five or six years.

She said that though it’s not much, the $20 in vouch­ers does sup­ple­ment her diet. When asked if she eats health­i­er be­cause of the pro­duce vouch­ers, she nod­ded.

“No doubt about that,” she said. “I only star­ted eat­ing some stuff – like a cup of ve­get­ables – since I came here.”

But does she con­sider Phil­adelphia a healthy city?

“It can be,” she said. “It’s hard, but this is help­ing.”

To learn more about dis­tri­bu­tion sites and in­come guidelines, call the PCA helpline at 215-765-9040 or vis­it www.pca­ ••

Greens­grow Farms’ LIFE ini­ti­at­ive

Greens­grow Farms, at 2501 E. Cum­ber­land St., began the third year of is an­nu­al LIFE ini­ti­at­ive on Ju­ly 14. LIFE – Loc­al Ini­ti­at­ive for Food Edu­ca­tion – aims to “help serve the un­der­served,” said Sam­antha Kelly, LIFE pro­gram co­ordin­at­or at Greens­grow.

The un­der­served, in this case, are Phil­adelphi­ans who re­ceive SNAP be­ne­fits. In part­ner­ship with The Food Trust, Greens­grow of­fers a dis­coun­ted farm share of ap­prox­im­ately eight food items every week for $13. The pro­gram runs un­til Septem­ber 28 this year.

Kelly said Greens­grow of­fers food edu­ca­tion and food pre­par­a­tion train­ing on site in its out­door prep kit­chen each week for LIFE par­ti­cipants.

“If they don’t know how to pre­pare this food, it’s go­ing to sit and go bad,” Kelly said.

Re­becca Frim­mer, gen­er­al man­ager at Greens­grow, said the food classes put a new twist on a fa­mil­i­ar re­cipe. While stay­ing for the food les­son isn’t re­quired, it is en­cour­aged, and Kelly said most people stick around for the so­cial as­pect.

In the LIFE ini­ti­at­ive’s first week, Kelly said that 18 fam­il­ies had signed up. But with some SNAP be­ne­fi­ciar­ies only re­ceiv­ing $14 a month, Kelly said some that turned down par­ti­cip­a­tion in the pro­gram did cite cost as a bar­ri­er.

How can that be helped?

ldquo;The classes are a big part of it,” Frim­mer said. “The re­cipes are budget-friendly, and we show them how to really stretch those dol­lars.”

To sign up, con­tact life@greens­ or call (267) 496-0148 and ask for Dee. ••

Farms to Fam­il­ies

Now in its second year, Farms to Fam­il­ies is run by St. Chris­toph­er’s Hos­pit­al for Chil­dren. The pro­gram dis­trib­utes boxes of food year-round from loc­al farms priced at whole­sale levels –a $10 box con­tains about $20 worth of food; a $15 box con­tains about $30 worth of food – and any­one in the city can pay for the boxes with cash, cred­it, deb­it or SNAP be­ne­fits.

The boxes are filled with loc­al fruits and ve­get­ables. Pat­rons can pick up the boxes at five dis­tri­bu­tion sites in east­ern north Phil­adelphia.

Ann Hoskins Brown, pro­gram dir­ect­or at St. Chris­toph­er’s, said that in Janu­ary, Farms to Fam­il­ies star­ted work­ing with phys­i­cians at the hos­pit­al to have them write pre­scrip­tions for the pro­gram for over­weight chil­dren. A doc­tor can write a child a pre­scrip­tion for Farms to Fam­il­ies that provides a $5 dis­count.

Es­sen­tially, then, that child’s fam­ily could pur­chase about $30 worth of food for $10.

She said she does think the pro­gram is hav­ing the de­sired ef­fect.

“We are find­ing that it does change be­ha­vi­or, but that it is slow,” she said. “People are telling us an­ec­dot­ally that it’s chan­ging their eat­ing habits.”

She said many oth­er or­gan­iz­a­tions in­volved with provid­ing ac­cess to pro­duce and healthy foods are strug­gling with ac­tu­ally get­ting people to come pur­chase the goods.

“It’s not ‘Field of Dreams,’” she said. “If you build it, they don’t care.”

To com­bat that men­tal­ity, she said edu­ca­tion is vi­tal. Farms to Fam­il­ies dis­tri­bu­tion sites do of­fer food pre­par­a­tion classes, she said, to en­tice people to stop by.

“We’re look­ing to turn the classes in­to a chance to taste foods and ask ques­tions. If they smell what’s be­ing cooked, they come find it,” she said.

Brown said Phil­adelphia is most def­in­itely on its way to be­com­ing a health­i­er city.

“It’s one of the cen­ters for cre­at­ive re­sponses to all of these is­sues. We’re really looked at as a mod­el on a na­tion­al level.”

Solu­tions though, she said, could take time.

“It’s taken a couple of gen­er­a­tions for it to get this bad,” she said. “It could take a couple of gen­er­a­tions for it to get much bet­ter.”

To learn more about Farms to Fam­il­ies and pickup loc­a­tions, con­tact Hoskins-Brown at 215-568-1126 or via email at ahb@scfchil­ ••

Star Man­aging Ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113, or at mjam­is­on@bm­s­

You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus