ABOVE PHOTO: Sharon Thompson, who lives near PHA’s Raymond Rosen development, takes a look at the strawberries on sale. Iovine Brothers Produce visits that site and three others once a week.
In an era when many Americans eat too many processed foods, the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Food For Life Program is making it easier for housing residents to obtain fresh produce – a key component for a healthy diet.
Many PHA residents live in neighborhoods filled with fast food restaurants with little or no access to the fresh fruits and vegetables needed to maintain a healthy diet. People who live in these “food deserts” often develop obesity and other health-related issues.
To provide healthier food options, PHA has partnered with the Reading Terminal-based Iovine Brothers Produce. Iovine Brothers visits four PHA sites one day a week: the Richard Allen Homes on Tuesdays, Wilson Park on Wednesdays, Raymond Rosen on Thursdays, and Greater Grays Ferry Estates on Fridays. The markets operate from 10 AM to 4 PM.
“This is a great way for our residents to buy fresh produce at great prices. The fact that so many of them are lining up to buy fruit and vegetables shows that they really do want to eat healthier – they just needed a way to do it,” said PHA Executive Director Carl Greene.
Vinnie Iovine, co-owner of Iovine Brothers, says the idea for the program began at the gym, where he works out alongside Greene. One day, he introduced himself, and Greene proposed the delivery of fresh produce to several PHA sites.
“We deliver that same exact product to 15, 000 people a week in the Reading Terminal” Iovine said, emphasizing the quality and freshness of the produce.
The company has partnered in the past with The Food Trust, a nonprofit group that works to improve access to healthy, affordable food and to educate children and families about nutrition. Iovine believes that if price and quality is right, people will be eager to try something new.
Residents at PHA’s Raymond Rosen development are thrilled to have choices where none existed before.
Sharelle Kingwood says Iovine Brothers offers more variety than she would have at other places and the pricing is more affordable. Watermelon is her favorite fruit.
“Last week, they had the small ones for a dollar. Hoo! We tried to come here and rack up!”
Sharon Thompson, a former resident who still lives in the neighborhood, likes the convenience and the prices.
“I like it because you can pick your own food. Most of it is reasonable compared to the markets. The people are nice, too.”
One of those nice people is Abeer El-Zaher, a 16-year old PHA resident working at the counter. As part of the program, Iovine hired two residents to set up the stands at the sites and man the counters. Residents can work up to 40 hours a week at $9 an hour as part of the agency’s Community Partners program. The program emphasizes job training and self-sufficiency.
El-Zaher smiles at the customers and says she likes working behind the counter helping people.
The other housing resident, 19-year old Devon Sumpter, was excited to have a job and some direction in life. He had been unemployed until Iovine Brothers picked him up.
“You find great people here, and meet new people,” he said.
Customers who buy at the market have several options for payment. Iovine Brothers will take cash, food stamps, WIC checks, credit, debit, and Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards.
The “Food for Life” program began operation on June 29th and will continue through September. PHA will evaluate the level of demand for the farmers’ market products and, based on the results, could expand the program to other sites next year.