Youth from Sxfan Francisco’s Tenderloin District are working to turn their local corner stores into “good apples,” by encouraging store owners to carry fresh produce and healthier food options. Team LST (Let’s Stop Tobacco), is a group made up of high school and college students in the neighborhood.
Some of the team members, like Elle Nguyen, surveyed 46 corner stores in the area, checking for standards like fresh produce, litter receptacles, tobacco permits, advertising requirements, and no-smoking signs, which are required by law. They then compiled an “Apple Map” rating the stores good apples, half apples, or rotten apples.
“A lot of these corner stores aren’t meeting certain qualifications, which made them ‘rotten’ on our map,” said Nguyen, 16. “I walk home here every day, I live right down the street [from Turk and Jones Street] … and youth like me are influenced.”
“When we first started, 85 percent of corner stores in the Tenderloin did not have their ‘no smoking’ signs,” Nguyen said. “[We] wrote letters to the Department of Public Health, and in return they gave us no smoking signs to give out to corner stores that didn’t have them before.” Now, only three percent of the stores are without ‘no smoking’ signage.
The group is now involved in an effort with the newly formed Tenderloin Healthy Corner Store Coalition in an ongoing effort to better the community. On Monday the groups announced that they were awarded $25,000 by Dignity Health to pilot a healthy retail program. The award came after two years of researching and surveying corner stores and residents.
The funds will go toward sponsoring a corner store—typically merchants of mainly tobacco and alcohol—and transforming it into a healthy corner market carrying affordable, wholesome options.
“I’ve been a resident of the TL for seven years,” said Sheila Wheeler. “I spend about $300 a month outside of the TL on groceries, and I want to put that money back into the community I live in. If we show this is what our community wants, we can make it happen.”
If we show this is what our community wants, we can make it happen.
The Tenderloin district currently does not have a full-service market. The 640-resident survey released by Team LST showed that nearly 80 percent of the residents would purchase their groceries at a corner market if it was possible. Those who said they wouldn’t shop locally mostly said they thought that the corner stores were expensive, carry low-quality produce and that the premises are “unsafe.”
In the next phase of this project, five Resident Leaders will perform intensive assessments to collect data about store facilities and which stores already have healthy selections. “It’s going to be a competitive process,” said Jessica Estrada, Youth Advocate Specialist at the Vietnamese Youth Development Center that hosts Team LST. “There’s only enough money for one store at first, then afterward if they see [that] this store got a free refrigerator, hopefully other stores will continue to want to become better and follow certain standards.” The store selection will happen in the spring of 2013.
Fadhl Radman, owner of Radman’s Produce Market, has been carrying fresh produce and groceries for 14 years, and hopes this program will promote healthy food to the residents and kids as well. “It’s always good to promote good eating habits, good food—a selection in the neighborhood that encourages the kids to eat healthy,” Radman said. “There’s a lot of junk in the neighborhood so we need to really steer them in the right direction.”
Many families and the elderly persons purchase their produce at his store, but up until now, Radman says the kids of the neighborhood have not been prominent buyers of healthy products. “We had a program to offer the kids, the Boys and Girls club down the street, 10 percent off [produce], had it for a year, there wasn’t a good response to it.”
If no one in the community is interested in purchasing produce, it’s difficult to stock. “If nobody buys them, I’m not going to offer it again, because it’s going to go to the dump,” Radman said. But with promotion, “we can provide more, and they keep consuming, and we can keep providing more selections. It’s always good to go the healthy way, always.”
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