Nearly a dozen corner stores in Syracuse are now participating in a program aimed at offering healthier food choices, especially to children. A new report showed that more than 14 percent of children in New York have obesity, placing the state 25th in the country.
Hawley Market co-owner Rita Algattas was one of the first to make fruits and vegetables more visible nearly three years ago. She says they’re making a difference, even if it isn’t always easy.
“A lot of [kids], we can’t convince them. I say ‘why don’t you leave the candy and take the banana?’ Some kids listen, and some kids don’t. If they have their parents with them, I don’t want to be their parents, it’s their parent’s job to do that. But [a healthier option is] there, it’s availible, that’s what we are trying to do.”
Her market is just down the block from Dr. Weeks Elementary School, which had 796 students as of August this year. About half of the market’s floor space is devoted to healthier options like low-fat dairy, granola bars, nuts, trail mix, whole grain products and bottled water, versus items high in fat, sodium, and sugar.
The Onondaga County Health Department and Trinity Health are helping stores by providing mini-grants and technical assistance. Grants will help stores purchase appliances like coolers or freezers so they can widen their variety of availible healthy food options.
County Community Health Counselor Adriana Sereno says stores are often reluctant to use their limited space on less profitable products that might not sell or have a short shelf life. But she says the opposite is true.
“In most of our stores, there’s a 65% increase in the sale of healthy foods. So, we have that kind of data to back us up and the numbers kind of speak for themselves because you can turn it into a profit if it’s done the right way.”
Hawley Market’s Rita Algattas tries to combat the common misconception that eating healthier foods is more expensive by providing healthy foods at reasonable costs and even helping parents with cooking tips and recipies.
“A lot of people live check by check and they don’t have the extra money to eat healthier… but you don’t have to be rich to eat healthy. You can spend ten dollars to make a whole pot of soup for the family. You don’t have to have a lot of money to eat healthy,” Algattas said.
Sereno, the county health counselor, says many neighborhood residents with limited transportation options rely on corner stores for all of their groceries because they can’t get to supermarkets that carry a wider selection of produce and healthier foods. She hopes the program can help achieve the bigger goal of reducing obesity and increasing accesss to healthier foods in the Syracuse area.