Community helps end fresh food deserts
If the Dreamland Park community is a food desert, then Attorney S. Wayne Patterson and his wife Tamica want their Attucks Street shop to be an oasis.
The couple’s Rebecca’s Store Grocery & More is the first local participant in the Healthy Corner Store Initiative. Funded by the North Carolina Division of Public Health’s Community Transformation Grant Project, the Healthy Corner Store Initiative encourages local retailers to add healthy food options to their shelves, making it more convenient for their customers to make healthy choices.
Rebecca’s Store Grocery & More is partnering with local growers and community garden programs to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to residents of Dreamland Park and the surrounding community.
“I am elated because now we’re not only having the fresh produce, but we’re building communities and partnerships for the local farmers in the neighborhood …and it’s right here in what is known as a food desert,” commented Mrs. Patterson, who manages the convenience store’s day to day operations. “We’re here and we want to meet the needs of the East Winston community.”
Lynne Mitchell, the Preventative Health Services director for the Forsyth County Department of Public Health, is working with Patterson to implement the program. Mitchell said the model of using community-based convenience stores has proven effective in other cities and towns across the state.
“They’re already in the neighborhood,” she said of convenience stores. “Healthy food needs to be accessible to people and readily available.”
Mitchell said she had attempted the project with another convenience store, but the effort was unsuccessful. By adding additional support elements, such as a monthly newsletter and food tastings at the store that showcases healthy recipes, Mitchell and Patterson said they are hopeful that the program will take off at Rebecca’s Store.
“I’ve been a nurse 19 years, and I know the direct correlation between food and disease prevention,” Mrs. Patterson declared. “What people eat can change their outcomes.”
Mary Lynn Wigodsky, a community resource associate at Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Program in Community Engagement, was among those on hand last Friday for the second monthly food tasting event at Rebecca’s Store. Between bites of the grape dessert salad Mitchell had prepared, Wigodsky expressed her enthusiasm for the Initiative.
“I think it’s really exciting. I’ve been involved for serveral years now with the health department on their Health Equity Team, and we have talked about the need to build up the community food system where there aren’t enough (grocery) stores,” said Wigodsky who grew up working in her father’s market in Maryland. “…As much as community gardens are a really great thing, they’re not the sole answer. We’ve got to have stores that are open longer hours that are year-round.”
Livingstone Mawutor, who farms a quarter acre plot of land just across the street from the store, will be among the area growers who will be contributing their crops to the effort. The longtime farmer and Ghana, Africa native praised the effort.
“I think it’s a beautiful combination,” said Mawutor, who is known locally for his moringa plants, which are said to promote energy, reduce chronic pain and ease a variety of other health conditions. “It’s right there, so we’ll partner and then she (Patterson) will let me know the things that they need, so we’ll partner together.”
Bishop John Huntley and his wife of 51 years, Deloris, have also signed on to contribute the overflow from the community garden they operate at the nearby Alpha and Omega Church, which Bishop Huntley pastors. The garden, which began as a small plot of collard greens seven or eight years ago, now produces an impressive yield of crops, from cabbage to zucchini, yellow squash and eggplants.
“Most of the time when we have zucchinis and squash, they bear real fast, and our overflow we’ll be giving to her (Patterson),” explained Bishop Huntley, who grew up on a farm in Monroe. “That way they won’t be going to waste.”
Howard University alumna Dominica Lambson moved back home to the Dreamland Park community after college. The 25 year-old has managed to drop 60 pounds through diet and exercise.
“I think that fruits are a girl’s best friends – I try to start my day off with them,” said Lambson, who added that she was thrilled that some of her dietary staples are now available at Rebecca’s Store. “It’s just convenient; it helps out. I really like it, and I think it gives the kids in the area a good thing to see.”
The couple opened Rebecca’s Store, which is named for Attorney Patterson’s late mother, in September 2011, but Mrs. Patterson is taking it far beyond her husband’s imaginings.
“It has just been a blessing for my wife to get in contact with Lynne and vice versa,” said Patterson, who also serves as president of the local NAACP chapter. “They have actually taken this store to the next level.”
Rebecca’s Store, 1501 Attucks Street, accepts both EBT and WIC (Women, Infant and Children). For more information about the store, call 336-722-9206.