In an effort to change this, Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson held a press conference on April 14 with the leaders of the Bodega and Small Business Association to announce support for an expansion of the healthy bodega program that was first launched in the Bronx five years ago with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control. Currently, only 20 bodegas are in the initiative.
“There’s no denying that there’s a strong correlation between the lack of access to healthy foods and increased health risks in our community,” Gibson said. “I fully support an expansion of this program because it empowers and enriches our bodega owners, many of them who are immigrant entrepreneurs who have disproportionately been affected by COVID-19.”
The councilwoman stressed that Bronx residents should not have to travel to Westchester or Harlem to get healthy food. The lack of healthy food has been exposed during the pandemic as people have waited on lines four hours at pantries.
Gibson noted that children love to munch on chips and drink soda, but they must find better things to eat. As bodegas are a staple in the borough, she hopes the healthy initiative is expanded and more can participate.
“It is extremely important that we work with the Bodega and Small Business Association, Bronx Health Reach and their community partners to ensure they have the resources and support to provide these healthy alternatives for our residents,” Gibson remarked. “Why is it that in the Bronx healthy food is inaccessible and more expensive?”
Frank Marte, founder of Bodega and Small Business Association, thanked Gibson for advocating for the expansion of the healthy initiative. He noted that sometimes it’s hard to get people to change their diet.
Often, people come in for a bacon egg and cheese and soda, but, he does his best to suggest getting water, low sodium turkey or salad instead. If kids are taught how to eat healthy from a young age then things might be different, he stated.
“We need our leaders to come together to support this initiative and help our community,” Marte commented. “One day we can say the Bronx is one of the healthiest counties in NY State.”
Frank Garcia, who is the chairman of the National Association of State Latino Chambers of Commerce, knows about eating unhealthy firsthand. Garcia used to scarf down chips, snacks and soda and eventually became so obese doctors told him he had two months to live.
He praised Gibson, but also pleaded with the federal government to help bodegas in the south Bronx.
“We need to put money in these small businesses that are offering a healthy initiative,” he stressed.