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Unique Public Health Initiative Brings Fresh Healthy Food to Neighborhood Markets



Lawrence, MA—Lawrence residents who rely on their neighborhood markets are now able to get fresh and healthier food options thanks to a unique partnership. Healthy on the Block/Bodegas Saludables is an initiative funded by community health dollars donated by Lawrence General Hospital, as a part of its Surgical Building Construction Determination of Need (DoN). Lawrence General is donating a total of $2.5 million to the city over six years for the development of primary and preventive health programs, and the promotion of community-level policy change to benefit vulnerable populations in our service area. The multiyear effort has since taken on some partners, including the Mill Cities Community Investment, to form the Lawrence Community Health Initiative Partnership.

In the Healthy on the Block initiative, twenty-six Bodega owners have entered into an agreement to designate space in their markets for healthy food choices, making improvements based upon an onsite assessment conducted by Groundwork Lawrence staff, the organization under contract with the City of Lawrence and the Mayor’s Health Task Force, a health coalition under the umbrella of the Office of Planning and Development, to coordinate this initiative. The improvements can involve aisle organization to enhance product display, enhanced food labeling, and even installation of refrigeration at the neighborhood markets.

“In many cases, food can actually be medicine,” comments Dianne J. Anderson, RN, president and CEO of Lawrence General. “Healthy food choices can help regulate weight, manage diabetes, and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.”

“Programs like this truly can change people’s lives for the better,” says Vilma Martinez-Dominguez, Community Development Director for the City of Lawrence. “We are finding meaningful ways to integrate programming into the culture of our region’s underserved and challenged populations. If you don’t have a car, you walk to your local corner store, and you eat what they sell.”

“I want to thank Lawrence General for investing in Lawrence in such a big way,” said Mayor Daniel Rivera. “Making Lawrence Better includes making Lawrence healthier, and these funds allow our residents access to programs that improve the overall healthy options of the bodegas they do their shopping in; it improves their access to programs that will benefit their overall health and that of their family. I look forward to further collaboration opportunities to improve the quality of life for our community.”

Cesar Checo owns El Mello Supermarket, one of the bodegas participating in the project, located in the corner of Lawrence and Park Streets. It’s important enough for him that he agreed to expand his market to include a warehouse for all the bodegas to use. The healthy food is more affordable in larger quantities and the additional storage space allows the bodegas to leverage produce from local farms, something that would be impossible in their small and scattered locations.

“I store low fat milk, vegetables, fruit and other healthy perishable food here in the warehouse,” says Checo, “and bodega owners can come and get their inventory from here.”

“We’re so pleased to be to part of such a unique partnership.” comments Anderson, the hospital president. “We have the clinical expertise, and the Mayor’s Health Task Force provides guidance to be sure the funds focus on those challenging social determinants of health, on access to health education, and on empowering people to make significant changes that will improve their health.”

In addition to the Healthy on the Block initiative, Lawrence General Hospital DoN dollars also provide backbone support to the MHTF for strategic planning and staffing infrastructure, and support other community health initiatives related to youth leadership, mental health/substance abuse, and a community exercise program at the Lawrence Senior Center.These community health initiatives help mitigate the chronic conditions that burden the most vulnerable people in the Lawrence community, and provide long-term sustainability to the collective efforts of the MHTF.DoN funds also provide complementary capacity-building to the City’s Board of Health to support quality improvement.All programming is developed to be sensitive and responsive to cultural values and barriers.

Editors’ note: The news conference will be held at El Mello, 187 Lawrence Street, at the corner of Park Street. Mr. Checo will be available to provide tours of the Bodegas Saludables warehouse.

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