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Senator Rivera and Bronx Health REACH Recognize Local Effort to Provide Healthy Food Options to Bronx Residents

Bronx, NY (December 21, 2011) —On Wednesday, December 21, Bronx Health REACH and New York State Senator Gustavo Rivera’s Bronx CAN Health Initiative, hosted an event to recognize the impact that the West Tremont Deli Grocery Corp at 19 W. Tremont, in partnership with the Citizen Schools apprenticeship program at MS 331, has had on increasing access to healthier food in a South Bronx community. For the last month, store owner Bakil Aljaradi has been working with students from MS 331 to offer special meal combos such as chicken, turkey, or tuna salad on whole wheat bread, along with a piece of fruit and a bottle of water, to students and teachers of MS 331 and PS 306. Mr. Aljaradi also began offering more fruits and healthier snacks. Prior to the work with the Citizen Schools apprenticeship program, West Tremont Deli Grocery Corp was a participating store of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Healthy Bodegas Initiative, a program focusing on increasing the availability and promotion of healthier foods in local corner stores.

Senator Gustavo Rivera expressed his recognition of Mr. Aljaradi’s efforts to offer healthy options to the residents of the Bronx with a proclamation. “Bakil Aljaradi has worked to ensure that his deli, West Tremont Deli Grocery Corp, is an example of how to make the Bronx a better place.” Senator Rivera went on to say, “Through his work, Mr. Aljaradi has inspired the community around his bodega to work together. He has fostered relationships with local community organizations and government officials to effect change and social justice in the Bronx. I believe these changes can serve as an inspiration for other bodega owners and community members in my district to build similar partnerships to increase access to healthy food.”

Bronx Health REACH Project Director Charmaine Ruddock remarked that “Bronx Health REACH is very grateful to Bakil Aljaradi for working with the students in the MS 331 Citizen Schools program to provide healthy food options in the Bronx. We hope that these efforts serve as a model to other community groups seeking to make the Bronx a healthier place to live.”

The event was also attended by:
• Bronx Health REACH staff members Kelly Moltzen and Suneet Goraya;
• Citizen Schools staff members Lauren Long-Garcia, Kristine Perria, and Michael DeWitt;
• Nyaisha Ruiz and Monaze Richardson, MS 331 students from the Adopt-a-Bodega apprenticeship;
• PTA President of PS 306, Margaret Johnson;
• and Alyssa Ruiz, Bronx Outreach Coordinator for the NYC Department of Health’s Healthy Bodegas Initiative.

The event at the bodega was later followed by a visit to MS 331 and PS 306 to view poster presentations by the students. MS 331 student Emely Liz described to Senator Rivera her experience working with the store to offer healthier options. Students also spoke to the larger school community about their Adopt a Bodega apprenticeship at a school event on December 15th. Suneet Goraya, a HealthCorps member for Bronx Health REACH, taught the ‘Adopt a Bodega’ apprenticeship to 14 sixth grade students.

“Together they created a special meal combo that was healthier than what was originally offered and successfully advocated for drinks like water to be placed at eye level as opposed to soda,” said Citizen Schools Program Director Lauren Long-Garcia. “Students learned about the importance of healthy eating and the power that they have to make a positive change in their community.”

Alyssa Ruiz, the Bronx Outreach Coordinator for the Healthy Bodegas Initiative at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, worked with the bodega owner for six months to get him to increase his stock of healthier food options. The store received promotional materials and technical assistance from the NYC Health Department as part of the Healthy Bodegas Initiative. Additionally, Kelly Moltzen from Bronx Health REACH attended an “Adopt-a-Bodega” Training hosted by the Healthy Bodegas Initiative and implemented this model at the Citizen Schools apprenticeship program at MS 331. Ms. Ruiz sees community partnerships such as that between Bronx Health REACH and MS 331 as important to successfully changing the neighborhood food environment and sustaining the work of the Healthy Bodegas Initiative.