NEW RIVER VALLEY, Va. (WDBJ7) Driving down the road there are a lot of places to stop to get a quick snack or groceries. But are there always fresh and healthy foods at those stores?
Coffee, candy, and soda are fairly common items for a convenience store or gas station. But those foods are not always the healthiest options, and the Mount Rogers Health Department is stepping in to help.
Health Educator Lakesha Butler said, “In this area, the closest grocery store is maybe five or ten miles away. So they come to these smaller stores for most of all of their day to day needs. So that was a great place to look at where we could increase those healthy options at.”
The program was launched after Mount Rogers was selected by the National Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Association as one of 17 agencies to participate in the community partnerships for healthy mothers and children project.
The Health Department wanted to address nutrition disparities in the area and improving access to nutrition options through corner stores and farmers markets.
To start this new program, owners of two stores in Hillsville and Independence decided to make a change after battling health issues with cancer and heart problems.
Ricky Anderson, who owns Rixey’s Mart in Independence said of a bacterial infection in his blood, “They done open heart surgery, and I said, ‘Why? I never had anything wrong with my heart.’ So I guess I’m going to have to be a little more careful with my heart.”
Hillsville Family Mart owner Glenna Myers said of her battle with cancer, “If you eat food that’s not processed it’s a lot healthier for you and you’ll have a lot less chance of having cancer or the disease you have.”
Both owners said they are now getting fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers, producers, farmers markets, or wholesale produce distributes.
While profits for fresh produce can sometimes be a questionable, Anderson and Myers said that’s not the number one reason they’re selling fresh fruits and vegetables at their stores.
“I’m not out for the profit,” Myers said. “I love my customers, they’re my family. So this is what I want, to make them a lot healthier.”0
And to make sure the healthy foods can last, the Health Department will continue to work with these stores providing help along the way.
“One on one trainings and sessions as well as we’re connecting them with business resources in the area so that they have the tools that they need,” Butler said. “And then overall we’re giving them the support and guidance for the entire span of the program so they can continue to do it by themselves.”
And it can be a success for these stores. Rixey’s has been selling produce for a few years, and their customers couldn’t be happier.
“They like it, they like it! It’s picked up our business quite a bit,” Anderson said. “Of course we sell a lot of other things besides produce but a lot of [produce shoppers] are starting to come in.”