Flor’s Mini Market is a neighborhood corner store that is one block from Thomas Jefferson High School in Historic South Central Los Angeles. It’s a favorite among high school students who frequently stop by to purchase a bite to eat before class or during lunchtime. Her merchandise mix is typical of a ‘tienda’ with must have home and personal products as well as some food and beverage inventory. Until recently, the food for sale was mostly packaged with few healthy food options. In a community that is both a food desert (with few healthy food retail choices) and a food swamp (categorized by a prevalence of unhealthy food outlets), markets such as Flor’s have come to represent unique opportunities and key potential partners in the effort to improve access to healthy, affordable foods in South Los Angeles.
Recently, Flor joined the Community Markets Purchasing Real and Affordable Foods (COMPRA foods) program, an innovative food distribution system that caters to small businesses that want to offer healthy food and leverages their collective purchases to secure better prices and quality products from wholesalers. During the first delivery of fresh produce last week, Flor was approached by a dynamic group of high school students known as the Community Health Liaisons (CHL). As part of National Health Foundation’s (NHF’s) BUILD Health L.A. Initiative, CHL youth work with neighborhood markets to help corner store owners introduce healthy produce, and better merchandise fresh fruits and vegetables. CHL’s help store owners make small, gradual changes by providing technical assistance that can help overcome the challenge of introducing new inventory and taking on new risk.
Two CHL youth, Ariana Vega and Melissa Villarruel, ‘adopted’ Flor’s Mini Market to help the store owner adjust to the demands of selling perishable healthy produce and help to ensure changes are profitable and sustainable, with the overall goal of increasing the availability of fresh, quality fruits and vegetables in their neighborhood. During this initial meeting, the CHL’s helped Flor inventory produce shipment and begin using marketing strategies to promote fruits and vegetables in-store. Together they carved out space in the store for the produce and used baskets and other materials to entice consumers to consider adding fresh fruits and vegetables to their purchases. Within a week, the students will check back with Flor see how things are going and modify their strategies as needed.
The students are keenly aware of the alarming prevalence of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in their community. For NHF, the BUILD Health Initiative presents an opportunity for partners to come together and improve the health of the community from within. By working with local high schools, NHF is able to directly connect with the energy of youth from the community. NHF brings CHL youth together with community partners such as Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (LURN), Los Angeles Food Policy Council, and Los Angeles Department of Public Health among others to share knowledge and to craft innovative solutions to build a healthier South Los Angeles overall. The students will continue to monitor their efforts to glean important outcomes, however, their efforts have already been well received by storeowners and the community alike.
For Ariana and Melissa, the experience of working with Flor left them inspired, “I felt really good knowing that we would be able to help her not only to sell her produce but also some of the other merchandise in her store,” shared Ariana. Melissa had this to say about her experience, “The level of excitement I had from helping Flor was inexplicable, it felt as if I were riding a roller coaster, or the feeling when you just learn to drive; it felt great!”
To read Ariana’s account of her work with Flor, please click here.