City to expand healthy eating project with Bronx bodegas, markets
Alysha De La Cruz usually brings her lunch to work. On Wednesday, however, she walked a long block from her offices in search of a healthy meal.
She ordered a grilled chicken wrap, with cheese, lettuce, tomato and spicy mustard from the deli at the 20/20 Deli. A nutritionist by trade, De La Cruz works mostly works with young families — prenatal clients to 5-year-old kids.
“This is just really convenient for me since I forgot my lunch today,” De La Cruz, 23, said. “And they usually have healthy options.”
De La Cruz one of a steady stream of workers from the Urban Health Plan center in the South Bronx who stopped by the corner store on Southern Boulevard and East 167th Street.
It also happens to be one of some 170 stores that participated in a program to help Bronxites drop the candy bar and pick up an apple instead.
Earlier in the day and at the Urban Health Plan headquarters, New York City Health Department Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett announced that the city’s program to drive healthier foods into struggling neighborhoods would expand in the Bronx and into Brooklyn, even if it struggled to keep most of the stores it convinced to participate on track.
In all, only 63 of the original 170 stores took part in the Shop Healthy NYC initiative from beginning to end, which was measured between May 2012 and 2013.
“That doesn’t meant that they didn’t get anything out of the project, but it means they didn’t go the full way,” Bassett said.
Still, Bassett said the program was an overall success and would soon expand from its current coverage of Hunts Point, Mott Haven and Longwood to East Tremont and even launch a pilot in Brooklyn’s East New York.
Bassett said that as long as residents and local business express a want for healthier food alternatives, the program can still be deemed a success.
“I think that it’s a very frequently repeated misconception that the junk in these stores is there because thats what people want,” she added. “But that’s not true. People want healthier options so they can make healthier choices.”
The program, which launched in 2012 under the Bloomberg administration, targets low-income communities with little or no access to healthy foods. The Bronx in particular suffers from many of the ills that the Health Department hopes to address through Shop Healthy NYC.
The obesity rate in the Bronx is double Manhattan’s — 30.5 compared to 13.9 percent. Five of the 10 community districts across the city with the highest rate of death related to diabetes are also in the Bronx.
In terms of specially addressing those numbers, Bassett admitted it will take more time than the last year.
“But this is part of getting there,” she said.
Alex Hauter, manager of the 20/20 Deli, said that his corner store only began to incorporate the changes suggested by Shop Healthy NYC after working with the Urban Health Plan — one of 200 community organizations with which the city collaborated.
“Our goal is to keep our community healthy,” Hauter said.
The store has no advertising in its front windows, places its candy bars behind a plastic case and put juices drinks closer in front of the sodas in the back. A freestanding rack of apples, oranges and bananas sits in front of the cash register.
As a nutritionist, De La Cruz said she appreciates the store’s work to make health foods more accessible. But the Bronx is still struggling, she said, to provide the supply of quality, affordable healthy goods to meet what she sees as a growing demand.
“The families I work with — they want to do better and they want to have better food but it’s either too expensive or its going bad in the stores,” she said. “I’ve had a couple of patients go to the farmers’ market at Union Square in Manhattan.”
There are pop-up markets scheduled to open around the borough come July, but De La Cruz said it wasn’t enough — at least not long term and for families already struggling with health issues.
“We have kids in our program who are diabetic, and they’re two years old,” she said, adding that the borough needs to see programs like Shop Healthy NYC expand. “Hopefully it’s something that grows throughout the Bronx and beyond.”
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter @chestersoria