Small-Scale Program Providing Big Returns in Fight to Increase Food Access

Low income communities in Dallas continue to lack access to healthy foods, forcing many residents to shop for groceries at corner stores. New Orleans is facing a similar issue, but a new pilot program is proving that small stores can provide that access.

Drive through the 9th Ward of New Orleans and you can almost feel the ghosts of flood-waters, lingering.

Residents who decided to start over after Hurricane Katrina say neglect is in the soil. It's fueling the overgrowth that dominates vacant lots where homes once stood.

More than a decade after this area was devastated by the storm efforts to bring businesses and residents back continue.

A corner store at the corner of Caffin and North Galvez serves as a sort of home base of operations providing vital services to the community - chief among them, access to healthy foods.

"Some people used to catch three city buses to get to the closest store from where we are today. They walk here now," Cotlon said. "This is a food desert and somebody had to do something. It's been too many years."n

Cotlon's store is one of five New Orleans convenience stores that participated in the Healthy Corner Store Collaborative.

The 12-month pilot program provides fresh fruits and vegetables to New Orleans corner stores, by connecting their owners with produce suppliers to keep costs low.

"We're looking to not only bring more fresh healthy affordable food to New Orleanians and make sure people can have access to those foods, but we're also looking to really frame the food system as a tool for economic development," said Kristine Creveling, senior food program manager at Propeller, a socially minded business incubator for entrepreneurs in New Orleans.

The collaborative was created by the New Orleans Food Policy Advisory Board and Top Box Foods, a non-profit distributor created by Propeller alumni.

The program has helped the stores sell nearly $20,000 in fresh produce. Creveling said its genius is quite simple.

Corner stores usually do not order fresh produce in bulk because spoiled produce is lost profits. The collaborative taps into a local food supply chain to take the financial burden off owners

"We're able to actually tap into an already pre-existing supply chain with one of our partners , Liberty's Kitchen. We're able to tack on our orders to theirs and then break those big orders into cases to then bring out to the stores in small volumes. That really reduces their financial risk as well as spoilage," Creveling said.

Around 80-percent of the produce sells the first week Creveling said.

"We have really good pull through and we have proven that there is a really high demand for healthy affordable foods in low income neighborhoods across the city," she said.

Cotlon said the program has been a godsend for his community and has been kind to his bottom line. He hopes to continue working with the collaborative.

"This is my home. Somebody had to do it. Kids should not have to suffer like this. A community should not have to suffer," he said. "If your home is hurting you're supposed to do something about it. My home was hurting (for healthy foods) so I decided to do something about it."

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