Monday, August 10, 2015

Over 20 Bronx Bodegas Participate in Two Day Healthy Bodega Initiative to Promote Healthier Food and Beverages

Bodega owners attending the Healthy Bodega Training on August 4.

Mitch Klein casually walked around the television studio housed discreetly inside Lebron's Restaurant Equipment and Business Machines store awaiting the bodega owners to attend the first ever, Healthy Bodega Training seminar. Mitch would be the trainer for the two day, nine hour sessions that were held on the evenings of Tuesday, August 4 and Wednesday, August 5. Getting to this starting point of the Healthy Bodega Initiative had been many months in the making. Launched by Bronx Health REACH, a program of the Institute for Family Health, in partnership with the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network, Inc. (HITN) and The Bodega Association of the United States (ASOBEU), the Healthy Bodega Training is a new and important part of the Healthy Bodega Initiative to address the obesity epidemic plaguing New York City’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

This in-depth Healthy Bodega training was created to focus on business strategies, food handling and marketing/promotion practices. It is anticipated that the training will lead to an increase in the supply and demand for healthier food and beverages for customers by providing bodega owners with the tools and information to make offering healthy food and drink options a successful business in the high need, low income communities in which they are located. The training focused on best practices for becoming a H.E.R.O. bodega (healthy, educated, responsive, and operational). Topics covered included: the requirements of being a vendor for the SNAP and WIC programs, compliance with alcohol and tobacco vendor licensing, and appropriate responses to dealing with New York City agencies if a bodega receives a fine. The two day training was videotaped and will be accessible online through a password protected link.

Mitch expressed his confidence in the impact of this training. He said, "I have been doing trainings for forty years all across the country, and over the next two evenings I will be talking about how the small bodega can make a difference and compete against the big box stores. We have great success stories after doing similar programs in Miami, Orlando, and Philadelphia, and these bodegas can thrive and grow their business."

Mr. Ramon Murphy, who is not only the President of The Bodega Association of the United States, but has owned his bodega for twenty years noted, "I hope to see those bodega owners attending the training realize that they can have more healthy food offerings for the community. He went on to point out that “a partnership between bodega owners and the community can help to make the Bronx healthier."

While many bodega owners have been willing to participate in efforts to stock healthy food at the behest of healthy food advocates like Bronx Health REACH and others, many owners have not been able to succeed at selling healthy food because they lack the necessary information and tools to market and sell these healthy foods. The training not only provided much of the needed information, but plans are underway to develop and implement education and incentives to make healthy foods affordable and desirable.

The work is funded by a three year REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Institute for Family Health/Bronx Health REACH is a founding member of ‘Not62 – The Campaign for a Healthy Bronx’, a new initiative, responding to the Bronx being ranked 62 out of the 62 counties in New York State by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Ranking Report since 2009.

Just a few minutes past the scheduled start time the studio was filled with over twenty bodega owners taking their seats and donning headphones since most would need the presentation to be translated into Spanish. Mr. Murphy greeted the bodega owners and thanked them for taking time out of their busy schedule to attend the training. He spoke about how the Healthy Bodega initiative would not only be an economic benefit for their bodegas, but also a healthy benefit for the community. 

Prior to holding the training one of the stated goals Bronx Health REACH, HITN and the Bodega Association had was that the training should be practical and useful for the bodega owners. Following the two day training Julia Mair from HITN expressed how the Bodega Association Board members were excited about the fact that the Healthy Bodega training was useful and meaningful to them and the other bodega owners in attendance.

The feedback from the bodega owners was positive. Some of the bodega owners requested more training and expressed their willingness to participate in more training sessions since the topics discussed could be applied to the day to day work in their bodegas. Attendance for the second evening increased as some of the bodega owners brought in people who also worked in the stores. Those bodega owners felt that the information at the seminar was worth having others from their bodegas attend.

The Healthy Bodega Training seminar is a significant step towards offering the community a better selection of healthy food choices. As more bodega owners attend future Healthy Bodega Training seminars, the changes they make in their bodega will enable them to create sustainable practices that mean good business for them and the health for the community.

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