Roosevelt Eager for Lunch n' Learn: A New Program Increasing Access to Healthy Eating Options
by DANA FAISON and SHANICE BIBBS
BRINGING HEALTHY FOOD OPTIONS TO ROOSEVELT FOOD DESERT
Community residents have advocated through a number of focus groups and community forums facilitated by Choice for All and Hofstra University on the importance of having access to healthy nutritious food, which they can afford to buy and have the information and skills needed to eat a healthy diet. This is especially critical as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has declared Roosevelt as a food desert – an underserved community vapid of fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthful foods due to lack of healthy food providers.
Understanding the community’s call to action in improving healthy food options, residents identified one of the key central places to access food is our local corner stores. Home to 33 corner stores in one square mile hamlet, residents discuss the need to improve healthy food access where most families and children are utilized on a daily basis for food and household items. Recognizing the unique role corner stores play in the community as both economic drivers and food accessibility, it was important to connect corner store owners with experts across sectors to implementing solutions that will increase access to healthy food items. The need for this collaborative space grew into what is now known as the Roosevelt Healthy Corner Store Network.
The network is a table of partners and local corner stores working together with one bold goal: reducing obesity and hunger by increasing healthy food access in our corner stores. The partnership tables include Western Suffolk BOCES, Cohen Children’s Medical Center at Northwell Health, Cornell University – Cooperative Extension Nassau County, Hofstra University Center for Suburban Studies and the Roosevelt Union Free School District. One of the key programs we recently implemented with our corner stores network members is Lunch ‘n Learn – a coupon program increasing healthy food access for residents. Generously funded by Kohl’s Care, Cohen Children’s Medical Center at Northwell Health, Hofstra University Center for Suburban Studies and Long Island Community Foundation, the program provided opportunities to introduce residents to healthy food options that are currently available within the corner store.
THE LUNCH N' LEARN PROGRAM IS BORN SATISFYING RESIDENTS' HUNGER... FOR KNOWLEDGE
Our first Lunch ‘n Learn coupon program was held at Stop & Go Deli in January 2019. As the first neighborhood corner store to sign on as a partner, Edwin Nunez, the new store owner, was enthusiastic about improving the way his customers are educated in selecting healthier food options in his store. Located on Babylon Turnpike in Roosevelt, participating residents received three coupons that valued at a total of $7.00 and were exclusively sued at Stop & Go Deli.
Coupons were distributed during heavy traffic time at the corner stores – lunch hour and dinner. We tabled near the front door which enabled us to distribute coupons to incoming customers and held intimate conversations with residents about health education, nutrition and wellness. In fact, one coupon recipient shared with us that he made a lifestyle change in becoming a vegetarian 14 years ago and frequently patrons Stop & Go Deli to order meatless side dishes such as rice, black beans, steamed vegetables, and avocados. Another recipient who is a long-time resident and an alumnus of Roosevelt High School shared her interest in frequenting a deli that offers green smoothies. These testaments, along with many more, solidify the need and demand for alternative healthy food selections in Roosevelt.
We also distributed the coupon program through a partnership with the Roosevelt Public Library. The generosity of the staff provided the Healthy Corner Store Network an opportunity to provide health education promotional materials, along with the coupon to library patrons. This also provided an opportunity to speak with residents who do not usually frequent Stop & Go. However, after learning about the Healthy Corner Store Network, residents shared with Choice for All they will now consider purchasing healthy foods at Stop & Go. By educating this new group of potential customers about our program and distributing coupons, we were able to draw a new base to member corner stores to purchase healthy items. In addition, we were able to converse with middle school student patrons about wellness and encouraged them to make healthier food selections at their local corner store.
Coupons were limited to a three-week period of usage to gauge residents’ interest in the program. Distributing over 180 coupons to the Roosevelt community, we received a 91% response rate of usage of at least two coupons or more. This data provided us with a unique opportunity to work with the corner store to advocate on specific healthy food options residents frequently buy. Additionally, at the time of publication, we were able to commit a second corner store, Midway Deli on Nassau Road (pictured in this article), to host our second distribution of the Lunch ‘n Learn program.
RESIDENTS' DESIRE FOR CHANGE ECHOS OUR OWN
As the coupon program continues to grow, we are observing a shift in residents’ perception to health and wellness in Roosevelt. In particular, during tabling events for the coupon program, residents shared ideas about how we can make Roosevelt healthier. One resident who recently graduated from Roosevelt High School had an interest in opening a juice bar in Roosevelt to promote and empower her community to invest more into their individual health. Another resident shared the importance of making the local youth run farmers market program year-round instead of seasonal. This shows residents have bold ideas and are ready for change. We believe it is our charge at Choice for All to help support these visions by bringing stakeholders across sectors in building true community wellness.
As Community Wellness Coordinators, our experiences working with the people has shown time and time again that in order to decrease high incidence of chronic illness, we must start on the individual level. Our community has embraced the frequent usage of corner stores as a social normality, and as residents of Roosevelt, we should be given the opportunity to incorporate wellness practices into our daily social routines. The Lunch ‘n Learn coupon program provided visibility and a platform for residents to share ideas, engage in healthy eating habits and build strategies towards sustaining wellness in Roosevelt.