Saturday, February 03, 2007

Healthy Bodegas and the Health Corps

We met with the Department of health last week to discuss thee "Healthy Bodega Initiative," a program that is designed to create greater access to healthier food choices for the city's low income shoppers. In order to make the program successful it is important that the stores themselves become aware of the importance of participation; and that it becomes worthwhile that they join in with the city in the effort.

That is why we were joined at the meeting by Jose Fernandez, the head of the Bodega Association. Fernandez understands that it is important that his stores collaborate with the city and the health advocates in the communities that the stores serve. It not only can create good will for the bodegas, it can also generate increased store traffic if the initiative is structured in the right way.

In order for that to happen, however, it is crucial that the folks in the neighborhoods become more aware of the need to choose healthier products to consume. This demand side of the equation is where the Health Corps comes in, and why Michele Bouchard, the group's new CEO was also present at the meeting last week.

The Health Corps is a school-based program that is designed to generate a health awareness and activism in New York City high schoolers. Already located in seven schools, the program is geared to expand into an additional twenty high schools in the Fall of 2007. The one missing ingredient in the HC curriculum was a methodology of community outreach; something that would enable the volunteers to get their message out into the neighborhoods where they live.

Creating a Health Corps/Bodega Association/Department of Health collaboration will give the Health Corps kids the opportunity to effect real world change by encouraging their fellow students, family members and neighbors, to purchase the healthier items that the local bodegas will be carrying. Once consumer demand is generated the stores will become enthusiastic partners as participation becomes a profit center for them.

In addition, we will also be meeting with the Affinity Health Plan folks to discuss an incentive program for consumers to purchase fruits, vegetables, and other healthier items. This program is envisioned to resemble the WIC voucher program and would give consumers a financial incentive to purchase the good stuff, and an incentive of course for the stores to stock all of the healthier products.