As one of the few grocery stores within walking distance of the neighborhood, Mango Grocery & Meat Market seems to carry the must-have foods. And that includes fruits and vegetables.
And it’s hard to miss. Even before entering the store, one can easily spot a robust spread of oranges, apples, peppers and plantains stacked neatly on the display rack. The owner, Sandy Ortiz, intended to make its presence clear.
“Customers should be more health conscious about what they’re eating,” Ortiz told the Norwood News from his store at the corner of Creston Avenue and East 196th Street. “We added the smoothies, doing more salads, different kinds of wheat bread, whole wheat bread.”
Ortiz is doing his part. And so is Montefiore Health System. In the last two years, the hospital giant has enlisted the Bedford Park grocery store and eight others to strategically bring healthier food options to the forefront. The cause is part of Montefiore Healthy System’s Healthy Store Initiative, hoping fresher foods can reverse the stubbornly high rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease that make the Bronx the state’s unhealthiest county.
But just nine stores won’t do. Aneka Wynter, Montefiore’s outreach representative for the initiative, falling under the Office of Community and Population Health, looks to ramp up participation. So far, she and the team have gone on a fact-finding tour around the northwest Bronx to determine what it will take to get bodega owners on board to revamp their bodegas to include healthier foods. This can range from identifying loans needed to reconfigure the store to retrofit a smoothie section or providing fruit baskets for better storage.
But despite the noble cause, stores have turned away Montefiore’s initiative, citing the initiative’s profit risk.
“The demand has to be there. So [owners] would always say, ‘You know, we bring bananas and we’ll buy apples, but if the customers are not purchasing this, it’s a waste of money,’ and they’re going to take it out,” Wynter said. “We have to work with them and say, ‘Okay, if you’re willing to sell these bananas and these produce, we’ll get you some customers.’”
They did so the week of May 15, with patients from several Montefiore Medical Group sites visiting bodegas. The outing was part of Bronx Week, where Montefiore is a lead sponsor. They stopped by four stores within the week, including Mango Grocery & Meat Market, where Ortiz prepared individual fruit bowls and smoothies. Wynter sees the initiative as a win-win, drawing customers to support local stores. It seemed to work for the visit to Mango Grocery on May 16.
“[The patients] ended up spending their own money buying other things in there because they didn’t know that there was another bodega within their area that sold these things,” Wynter said.
Editor’s Note: Bodega owners in the Bronx interested in joining the initiative can reach Aneke Wynter at MHSI@montefiore.org or (718) 920-6058. The print version of this article misstated the name of the initiative and Ms. Winter’s first name.