LIMA — Activate Allen County is trying to make local small grocery stores healthier, one by one.
Meat City started adding healthier options in September, and now Corner Grocery on North Elizabeth Street will be as well.
Both stores are part of a program by Activate Allen County called Healthy Happens Here, which began last fall and promotes healthy food and snack options.
Starting next month, Corner Grocery will have fresh produce for the first time — ever.
“It’s going to be a major difference,” said Kayla Monfort, chronic disease prevention specialist at Activate Allen County. “[They’re] starting with nothing and moving forward from there.”
Chessa Salem, owner of Corner Grocery, said her customers have responded very well to the proposed changes, which include fruit, whole grain and other healthy options.
“We wanted to get involved in it because your health is very important,” he said. “The neighborhood is lower income and sometimes it’s [someone’s] only access to a store.”
Though the neighborhood store hasn’t offered produce before, she said there is definitely a need for it. It’s something this neighborhood wants, she said.
Meat City has had success with its changes, Monfort said.
“We’ve seen some really good changes as far as customers attitude toward it,” she said. “We’re seeing an increase in sales in produce.”
Both Meat City and Corner Grocery are in “food deserts,” or places where there isn’t easy access to a larger grocery store. Because a full-service grocery store is so far away, people resort to eating convenience foods more often. Many who live in food deserts have transportation issues, so it’s not a simple matter of driving across town to a large grocery.
“It’s important for these areas to be our focus, to make things appealing using smaller stores in those locations,” she said.
There are 12 food deserts in Allen County, eight of which are in the city limits of Lima.
The program promotes small stores carrying not only produce, but low-fat and low-sodium options, whole grains and frozen vegetable and fruit juices, according to a release about the program from Activate Allen County.
The free kick-off event for the program will be from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Corner Grocery and will include free health screenings, educational health materials, food demonstrations and more.
Monfort is continuing to recruit small “corner stores” for the Healthy Happens Here program.