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Bodegas, corner stores in Trenton pledge to stock more healthy food

November 2, 2013 | Community News and Media, Media Coverage, Trenton

Originally posted in the Times of Trenton

Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton

Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton

There’s a big weight problem facing the city’s children today, but local officials and organizations believe the answer might be just around the corner — literally.

Bodegas and corner stores across Trenton’s North Ward officially joined the fight against childhood obesity in the city yesterday, pledging their shelf space to more healthy foods like fruits, salads and yogurts in hopes of delivering better options to the families — and especially the children — who rely on the stores for quick, easy access to food.

Organized by the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids, the program, part of the Trenton Healthy Food Network, officially kicked off yesterday in front of Monchy’s Deli on North Clinton Avenue. Already selling a number of healthy products for several weeks now, the store’s owner, Ramon Gomez, can barely keep the nutritious stuff in stock, he said.

“The kids are really enthusiastic. They keep picking the fruits, the salads, and asking when we will be getting more,” Gomez said through a translator at the event. “I have a daughter in the Trenton school system, so I was motivated to help; as a parent, and as a resident, I wanted to contribute to the community, to make this a better city.”

Gomez is joined in his participation by the owners of three other Trenton establishments, Andy’s Food Plus; Freddy’s Deli Grocery; and Trenton Meat Farms. And, according to Freeholder Sam Frisby, the city will need everyone they can to help combat the problem.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We need to make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Trenton’s school-aged children face a 49 percent obesity rate, while 22 percent of kids ages 3 to 18 eat less than one full serving of vegetables daily and 40 percent do not eat enough fruit, according to numbers provided by the NJPHK. In the city’s North Ward, the problem is most apparent, Trenton Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson said.

Part of the problem has not been the lack of motivation to provide better food, but the lack of means to do it, according to Frisby. The small stores have less room for the refrigerators needed to keep the extra produce and yogurt fresh, and many of the owners weren’t sure how best to take care of those products, he said.

“The fridges were huge,” Frisby said. “Without the fridge, you can’t have this produce because it goes bad quickly, and that’s the owners losing money.”

“They were also worried about the configuration,” he said. “Can people still walk in my store or will this fridge be in the way?”

A large portion of the initiative focused on getting the right fridges to the stores and organizing special displays for the healthy food in prominent places, where it was more likely to be noticed. And the tactic has so far proved successful, according to Andy Torres, owner of Andy’s Food Plus.

“That fridge, it helps out a lot,” he said. “The kids see the fruits and yogurts in there. They love the fruit cups, and they’re choosing the healthy products. That’s what makes me feel the best about doing this.”

Still, the store owners weren’t the only ones who needed an education on healthy food, Frisby said. The initiative also provided the stores with magnets to inform customers of foods that are “Good, better, best,” and the organization has been putting up billboards directing consumers to the newly-stocked stores, along with dispatching volunteers to the schools to teach the children about making healthier choices.

At the kick-off event, several local children showed off that knowledge and helped prepare healthy dishes for the crowd, including vegetarian chili, fruit smoothies and a corn and black bean salad.

Smiling and laughing as they rinsed and mixed the vegetables, the children said they liked the food and would bring the new recipes home to their families, although elementary student Sharday Kearse-Riby worried that her brother “probably wouldn’t listen” to her.

But it’s that willingness to pass on the healthy habits that officials like Frisby are banking on to ensure better health for later generations.

“We need to give the children the proper education and the proper tools, and they will give those to their parents,” he said. “Like it says in the Bible, ‘And a child will lead them.’”

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