The High Point community in Seattle, Washington is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. This neighborhood is home to many immigrant and refugee populations from Southeast Asian and East African nations, including Somalia (40 percent), Vietnam (9 percent), and Cambodia (3 percent). The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) partnership developed a Healthy Food Survey for the residents and heard that they wanted more healthy food options. That initial feedback was a catalyst to find new ways and new relationships with businesses to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables to community residents. One of the most innovative options is via their local drugstore.
Great Diversity, Common needs
The HKHC partnership is led by King County Housing Authority and the Seattle Housing Authority. Together, they are working in four housing developments, one of which includes High Point, to implement healthy eating and active living policy changes. There are approximately 23 different languages spoken in the High Point community and more than half of the 2,100 residents are children. Joyce Tseng, the HKHC co-project coordinator with the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA), and the High Point community members know the importance of having access to resources nearby, including healthy food. This was reinforced and validated in the Healthy Food Survey by many of the residents who said they wanted fruits and vegetables but could not find them within walking distance. From 2004-2007, SHA tried to attract a grocery store to the area, even securing federal assistance through the New Markets Tax Credits to make it more enticing for the grocery store. Even with that and knowing the need, no store was willing to come into High Point.
The HKHC partnership dealt with a similar food access challenge through another innovative approach in 2010. With the support of HKHC, a Seattle resident who has relatives in High Point took the initiative to open a halal meat and grocery store adjacent to the community in order to meet the needs of Somali residents interested in cooking culturally-appropriate foods. Around the same time, Joyce and the partnership approached the local Walgreens drugstore and a local corner store to ask them to start selling fresh produce.
As Joyce said, “There was a high demand in High Point, even before the neighborhood was fully redeveloped; people were interested in getting fresh produce.” The corner store owner, and the High Point community members, both agreed that the corner store was not a place where people would want to shop for fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, the local Walgreens manager, Kevin Ward, had just been talking with other nearby Walgreens’ managers about the potential of providing fresh produce in their stores.
Healthy Foods Here
Within a week after community members asked their local Walgreens to sell fresh produce, the store had a stocked produce stand. Located in the front of the store, next to the cash registers, is a display of fresh bananas and at the end of the center aisle is a variety of fruits and vegetables. “Healthy Foods Here,” funded by Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), helped Walgreens to purchase a cooler and provided produce-care training. After the Walgreens first started selling fresh produce, the residents of High Point quickly found out about it by word-of-mouth and through community members handing out multi-lingual flyers. At the same time and independent of what was happening in the High Point Walgreens, the company announced a major effort last July to bring healthier food options and more accessible health care resources to its stores in underserved communities. As part of the commitment, Walgreens plans to convert or open at least 1,000 “food oasis” stores across the country over the next five years. And because Kevin did the leg work to bring in the produce, work with a vendor and listened and supported the residents’ requests at his location, he was ahead – and aligned – with the corporate goals.
Getting a nationwide chain like Walgreens to start carrying fresh produce in a local store in a food desert is a success story, but that is not where the story ends. This is an example where an organization can do good and do well. The new kiosk allows residents to find healthy food options within walking distance and is making money for Walgreens at the same time. Kevin says, “The produce [stand] is immensely successful. It’s good for the community and we’re proud to be able to provide access to healthier food options.” Kevin continues to check in with customers about what produce they would like to see on the shelves. Joyce said “Kevin is always open to community feedback and improving,” and to him, it just makes good business sense.
And Kevin is not slowing down. Currently, the High Point Walgreens is doing its own marketing of the fresh produce. Not only is Kevin working with four to five other Walgreens in the area to start carrying produce, but they are now authorized as a WIC retailer. “It took a while to get the requirements ironed out,” said Kevin. He went on to talk about some challenges going through the process, like making sure the store had the right inventory and working with authorized vendors. But he’s optimistic, saying “now that everything’s in place, it should be easier to get other stores on board.” Kevin does not know if his store has a higher concentration of WIC customers in the area, but he knows that being a WIC store is good for the customers. For the HKHC partnership, Joyce and Kevin both say that they plan to maintain an ongoing relationship with the community and continue to solicit feedback and work to meet the residents’ needs. These type of relationships help create a healthy bottom line for everyone.