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Evelyn Brito went to buy some vegetables for her 2-year-old daughter, but was stunned to find no fresh produce in her local bodega, a small grocery store in her Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Lynn, Mass. (38% Latino).
Instead, unhealthy chips, cookies, and processed foods lined the bodega shelves.
Brito wanted to change all that.
Brito, an independent filmmaker and marketer, turned the cameras on the local food environment and engaged bodegas in finding a solution.
That led to “Bodega Makeover,” a unique docu-reality web series.
The Junk Food Problem in Lynn
Brito grew up around bodegas in Boston. Her father worked in one when she was a child.
“I would go to a bodega to get freshly peeled oranges for less than a dollar and the owner would ask me how my family was doing,” Brito said. “Bodegas were the center of our connections─not just to buy groceries, but to share a joke, a recipe, stories from home, or the latest gossip.”
Today, bodegas are “saturated with unhealthy options and broken equipment,” Brito said.
Indeed, parts of Lynn are considered a “food swamp.” These areas have both a food desert (lack of a nearby grocery store) and a large amount of stores and restaurants that offer low-nutrient fast food and junk food.
Bodegas in Lynn, where many Latinos shop, offer few healthy food options.
Brito found that workers don’t know how to maintain fresh produce. Some bodegas are not appropriately equipped to display products, which prevents movement of inventory.
“This is a major health crisis in the community,” Brito told Salud America!, “and not only is it a big problem locally, but all across the state of Massachusetts.”
Lynn is just like many other U.S. Latino neighborhoods, where fast food and corner stores outnumber supermarkets and farmers’ markets, according to a Salud America! research review.
Brito felt compelled to find a solution.
Brito had an idea to use her filmmaking skills to shine a light on the issue of local healthy food access in Lynn and beyond.
She called it “Bodega Makeover.”
Her vision was a docu-reality web series that helps bodegas and other corner stores improve and acquire healthier food and drink options in local neighborhoods.
The series is similar to popular shows such as Extreme Makeover Home Edition, Hotel Impossible, and This Old House. Each episode has a host meet with bodega owners to discuss issues and engage store designers and community health experts in changes.
Brito raised $3,600 through a fundraising website to produce the series.
Bodega Makeover’s main goal is to promote healthier options and tell the stories of Latino and/or urban communities that are in food deserts or food swamps. They will also work on making bodegas more attractive, for example, better window displays, as well as seeking help from the local community to ensure a positive transformation.
“Neighborhood residents are encouraged to make healthy food choices and to develop relationships with owners and the community at large. And nonprofits are engaged too, including The Food Project, which connects young people to agriculture and to urban stores,” according to the Power Station audio show.
The First Episode of Bodega Makeover
Bodega Makeover’s pilot episode is set for release in July 2018.
The pilot episode, and each episode that follows, will focus on the individual life of a bodega owner. Brito will produce stories by linking with non-profit organizations who are working on community development in hopes of stimulating business and community investment.
“[I’m proud] to wake up every day and know that this project will make a difference in someone’s health,” Brito told nenami.com.
Brito and her team hope to travel into all 50 states to help bodegas increase healthy food and drink options and restore local health food access.
“Bodegas are a sense of community. These are grassroots changes – making something out of nothing.” Alex Cuevas, co-executive producer of Bodega Makeover, told Salud America!
“We need to focus on what we are doing now, not what are the goals for 2020 and 2030. Focus on now!”
By The Numbers
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.