GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - There are several Grand Rapids neighborhoods without access to large grocery store chains. Residents rely on smaller corner stores to feed their families, though they don't always have healthy options like fresh produce.
Grand Rapids might not have actual food deserts but they are pretty close in neighborhoods where English is a second language and having a car is a luxury, stores like La Tapatia serve as the main source of food for families, "We didn't have many vegetables and fruits, frozen fruits. That's what we didn't have." Javier Olver is the co-owner of La Tapatia on Clyde Park Avenue. For the past four years he's tried to provide for his customers the best he could but getting fresh produce wasn't always easy, "We didn't have space for the products."
But now he does.
A new sprinkler system for his produce cooler is just one of the items he was able to install in his store, "With the water sprinkler system it keeps the fruits fresher and it looks a lot better." A new freezer was the other "I would like to have the community healthier and also it's helping our sales."
Both were purchased and installed using grant money from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan which is funding the Michigan State Project Fit campaign to reach out to community stores like Javier's, "I'm so grateful for what they did. Our sales have increased and our customers are happy with the changes."
And that was the goal for Neighborhood Ventures an organization that is also partnering with MSU to make sure these stores are able to continue providing healthy produce and food options, "We want this to be part of their business model that they are actually increasing access to the healthier food and they make this a day to day effort." says Executive Director Mark C. Lewis.
In La Tapatia there are signs pointing to the fresh options and Javier says customers appreciate the effort, "I think they are very happy with the changes." And hopefully the changes will help make for a healthier community.
There are 45 small stores just like La Tapatia in the Grandville Business District. The hope is that more of them can be implemented into the program.
In about six months Project Fit will evaluate to see how much of an impact they've had on the neighborhoods.