"Mama" (center) takes a moment to talk to the cyclists about her partnership with Community Services Unlimited and providing fresh, healthy food to a community where such resources are scarce (photo: sahra)
“They’ve been receiving it pretty decently, I must say,” Karen Whitman, the “Mama” of Mama’s Chicken, told the riders with the Healthy Food tour regarding her customers’ response to the fresh produce she recently began offering at her shop. “The more people that know about it, the more that’s coming in.”
Located at the corner of Slauson and 4th Ave., the market (and the produce she offers with the help of Community Services Unlimited (CSU)) fills a unique niche for neighbors in the area that want healthier options than those found at the “grocery” across the street offering candy, sodas, incense, body oils, and hygiene products.
And, she added, “it makes me really happy to know that they can come here because, a lot of times, they don’t have transportation to even get to some of the stores,” referring to the Ralph’s at Crenshaw, 1/2 a mile away, or the Food-4-Less almost a mile down Slauson at Western. Although those distances may not sound great, for people who struggle to afford transit fees, the elderly or disabled, or those with children in tow, lugging groceries back and forth by bus or along streets where safety is a concern may not be viable options.
Whitman is so happy about offering healthier fare, in fact, she’ll be remodeling the store later this year to feature refrigerated shelves that will allow her to display the organic collard greens, grapes, green beans, mustard greens, carrots, cabbage, and celery right up front to tantalize customers.
The makeover is a long time coming.
A few years ago, the Community Market Conversion Program (CMC) – a now-defunct partnership of the Community Redevelopment Agency – Los Angeles (CRA-LA), The California Endowment, and the County Department of Public Health that funded the conversion of small, locally-owned stores in under-served communities to offer healthier choices — had identified Whitman’s store as ripe for transformation.
The financial and technical support the CMC program would have provided her was vital to the conversion process. Whitman and others in her position are rarely able to scare up the capital and expertise necessary to secure the permits from the Department of Public Health, invest in compliant infrastructure and facilities (refrigeration, drains, etc.), source and maintain produce — something that is not a big money-maker for grocers in the first place — and try out different marketing techniques on their own. It is too risky and the rewards are too few to do it without assistance.