PROVIDENCE, RI – Healthier school lunches, calorie-counts posted alongside menu items, and taxes on soda: These are just some of the policy changes being proposed to fight and curb obesity rates in American children and adults. Ultimately, the decision to incorporate these recommendations will be made by school boards, state-elected leaders, and other “policy-makers” and legislatures. However, there is a role for average citizens, residents and families, and small business owners, including letter-writing and testimonials to political leaders, starting and joining campaigns and organizations that support your cause, and familiarizing friends and neighbors with the issues.
But what else can you do? Here in the metro area of Rhode Island, another way to effect change has emerged for citizens and businesses alike: The Healthy Corner Store Initiative led by the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island (EJLRI), “a community campaign to add healthy options and variety to the food available at small markets in the city.”
See my photo diary below or my online slide show from their most recent Corner Store Makeover; it was at Ama’s Variety Store and Mini Mart in Pawtucket, RI on November 20, 2010.
New Battambang on Elmwood Ave. in Providence was one of the first stores that participated in the Healthy Corner Store project. These photos show some of the produce the store carried before the makeover – and where in the store they were originally located.
EJLRI Director and Lead Organizer, Amelia Rose (pictured in the first photo holding notes) led a diverse group and alternating number of volunteers throughout the day, including youth attending high school in Providence, Environmental Studies and Art students from Brown University and RISD, and community members that had read about the day and initiative.
Ama Amponsah, who, along with her husband and children, run “Ama’s Variety Store and Mini-Mart,” is originally from Ghana in the northwest region of Africa. Today, her children are young adults “raised in the store,” one with a college degree and two en-route. Like their mother, Alethea, Isaac and Germain all are very friendly and familiar with the steady customer base that visits on the day of the makeover.
Seeing a group of young people outside doing positive things at the neighborhood store emerged as a conversation-starter and a contagion. One shopper who stopped to talk to the group, Tamika Dias, eventually inquired into how to enroll her own teenage son in programs at EJLRI. Even Urban Health Watch caught the bug; eventually, I put down the camera, picked up materials and made a sign of my own.
EJLRI provided signs for labeling snacks considered healthy, like those low in sugar or containing recommended nutritional values, and, of course, fruits and vegetables. They also brought in and stocked the store with other healthy foods, while changes outside included signs drawn by RISD students and a new paint job.
To see more pictures from the makeover, click here to view an online photo slideshow. For more information about the Environmental Justice League of RI, visit http://www.ejlri.wordpress.com or call (401) 383-7441.