Communities fighting food deserts from corner stores

Chicago, Illinois – In many communities across the country, convenience stores or convenience stores are a major source of food, and sometimes, these stores don’t provide healthy options. In Chicago, there is a growing effort to change the narrative around neighborhoods seen as food swamps or food deserts.

For Dera Purnell, her Chicago neighborhood pantry offers refuge from a tough reality.

“I have a walker on my crutch and I’m afraid to go out because people in my situation can easily take advantage of me when I’m alone,” Purnell said.

The store you’re visiting is located in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. It is operated by IMAN, the inner city Islamic Action Network.

“Inglewood, if you look at food insecurity, it’s close to 50%,” said Ahmed Gitan of the Inner City Islamic Action Network.

The store operated by IMAN provides plenty of healthy food, but it comes out, and Jitan said that’s not the case. A store that most people do not consider a grocery store is the main source of food for many.

“The corner store is a key cultural component,” Gitan said.

With a few traditional grocery stores nearby, Gitan said many rely on these small stores for food.

“It’s where you go for a quick snack, where you can grab a pop or some cigarettes,” Gitan said.

Neighborhoods like this one are considered food deserts due to their lack of access to traditional groceries and the fresh food they can provide.

A study by the University of Texas San Antonio found that people who live in communities like this are at greater risk of health problems such as obesity.

“You don’t have developers putting things in the community that will help develop people in a positive way. All you do is demolish them,” said Abd al-Rahim Merrit of the Inner City Islamic Action Network.

But IMAN’s Corner Store campaign aims to combat this statistic. Fifty stores have signed on to work with people like Jitan to get a cleaner look on the outside and healthier items on the inside.

“Your business will succeed if you invest in the community, and not just that you will see that the economy of this whole neighborhood will improve if you can envision a different kind of store,” Gaitan said.

Nationwide, many communities, including Denver, Detroit, and Cleveland have programs that work with corner stores to offer healthy items.

For Jitan, work goes beyond food.

“So there is also an element of racial tensions that occur in these corner stores, which operate mostly in black or Latino neighborhoods with immigrants from these other countries. Many of these stores are often run by immigrants from countries like Palestine, where I come from,” Gitan explained. Jordan or Yemen or provinces in South Asia.” “The concern is that I am coming to this country. I want to feed my kids and send some money home. I know what sells. And it’s already selling out, but you’re losing out on a lot of the community that wants other things.”

In February, IMAN will open a new market.

“As the only food establishment, you really have the ability to limit or expand the nutritional intake of the people who shop in the store,” said Darren Jeters of the Inner City Islamic Action Network.

The new market is the first step in helping this community, but in Chicago and across the country, there’s a lot of work ahead.

“There are a lot of things that are missing in terms of people understanding each other’s stories and the power that happens when you build relationships for other people’s stories, you begin to understand how we can build together,” Gaitan said.

This community group understands that it will take every person buying to improve the complex relationship between food and health in the inner city, but they are willing to make an effort to see their community grow.


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