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Glen Cove market, with help from healthy food initiative, becomes an oasis in food desert

La Placita Supermarket employee Andrew Noe unloads water

La Placita Supermarket employee Andrew Noe unloads water bottles at the market in Glen Cove. The placement of water in the store is one of the subtle changes geared toward healthier choices. Credit: Danielle Silverman

A Glen Cove grocery store has become a healthy oasis as a program fights against food deserts in underserved communities.

At La Placita Supermarket, shoppers can walk out with healthy recipes in their grocery bags, in addition to food and drinks.

The recipes, printed in English and Spanish to reach the Latino community the store serves, are part of the "Healthy Corner Store" initiative organized by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk. La Placita is the eighth store to join the program since Cornell CooperativeExtension of Suffolk, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Cornell University, started it in 2015.

"We provide education of not only why to eat it but also how to prepare it and to prepare it in a way that you are culturally comfortable to eat it," Marta Blanco, lead bilingual nutritionist at the organization, said while walking through the store Friday.

The program promotes healthy eating among underserved communities that often live in "food deserts," Blanco said.

"The may have a Wendy’s and a Dunkin' Donuts, they may have the fast food chains, but they may not always have those options of healthy alternatives," Blanco said.

The strategy to promote better diets is a mix of product placement, education, recipes and information highlighting different fruits and vegetables.

The differences at La Placita Supermarket, which has operated on Glen Street for nine years, can be subtle. To promote drinking more water and avoiding sugary soft drinks, stacks of bottled water have been moved upfront and with new signage. Bilingual information signs in the produce section tell shoppers the difference between varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Store manager Salvador Diaz said the organization approached them at the beginning of the summer about being part of the program.

"They had some suggestions and then I started working with them on the suggestions that they had," Diaz said. "It's been a process."

Diaz said it’s too soon to tell whether the program is inspiring healthier eating choices, but he said "signage is always good."

The supermarket offers Spanish-speaking immigrants some foods that might be harder to come by in larger chains.

"We try to cater to anyone who's in the community," Diaz said.

People who take an online nutrition workshop through the program get a $10 coupon to buy food at the store.

Jose Bonilla, a 57-year-old landscaper originally from El Salvador, had picked up a 2-foot-long succulent aloe vera leaf and pieces of cactus to use in a smoothie, and watercress for tuna salad, as he passed by the new signage describing different types of broccoli.

Bonilla said he liked the description, and that he shopped there because it was close to his home and because it has a lot of Latin food products.

Blanco said customers like Bonilla are an example why this store was chosen for the program.

"This store is able to provide culturally relevant foods," Blanco said.

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