More Than a Grocer: Connecting Fresh Food and Health Care

Low Income Investment FundMarch 1, 20150 Comments

For nearly 100 years, Nojaim Brothers Supermarket has been a provider of locally-sourced healthy food for the Near Westside community of Syracuse, New York. More than a grocer, Nojaim’s serves as a neighborhood anchor and employer in a severely distressed community where residents face limited access to healthy food.

When Paul Nojaim, the store’s third-generation owner, took over the business he was determined to continue his family’s commitment to the local community. To address the health problems that have long plagued the neighborhood, Paul understood he needed to make a bold investment in not only the supermarket, but the entire Near Westside community. To do so, Nojaim Brothers Supermarket collaborated with a variety of community organizations to address the multi-pronged issues of health disparities in food deserts and economic revitalization in challenged inner city neighborhoods.

Financing Healthy Food Access

Like many other cities that lost large industries, Syracuse and specifically, the Near Westside neighborhood, faced decades of disinvestment and population decline. Today, more than 50% of the community lives in poverty and residents face limited access to affordable and healthy food.

Given the difficult economic environment, the supermarket struggled and was faced with possible closure. LIIF stepped up to provide affordable financing through the New York Healthy Food and Healthy Communities (HFHC) Fund to support a renovation and expansion of the store. The $30 million HFHC Fund provides financing to expand healthy food access in underserved communities throughout New York State. The financing enabled Nojaim’s to a complete a substantial renovation of the 50-year-old building, including new equipment and a 3,000-square-foot expansion for fresh foods.

Unusual Partners for Community Health

Now reopened after a year of remodeling, the supermarket has become the focal point for innovative community health partnerships. Paul Nojaim knew that a change in the public health of Near Westside community required more than just a much-needed source of fresh food. “We understand that we are not running a grocery store in a silo. We are part of a team – a team of people that have reached out of their own silos to say, how can we do it better?” said Nojaim. This vision and team materialized as Nojaim established partnerships with Syracuse University, a local coalition of public agencies, nonprofits and local businesses that are working to revitalize the neighborhood.

We understand that we are not running a grocery store in a silo. We are part of a team – a team of people that have reached out of their own silos to say, how can we do it better?

To date, the supermarket has collaborated with St. Joseph’s Hospital, Syracuse University and the Onondaga Department of Health on several initiatives to help link primary care with nutrition and healthy food access. For example, the supermarket recently launched a new in-store rewards program that encourages healthy food purchases. Shoppers have the opportunity to earn points when they purchase healthier items and receive discounts for nutritious food items and other health services. In addition, the store is partnering with the neighboring West Side Family Health Center, operated by St. Joseph’s Hospital, on a program that would integrate patients’ food purchases with their health services to provide comprehensive nutritional counseling and healthy living education for those who opt-in.

Nojaim Brothers Supermarket is so much more than a grocery store. It is a community hub, an innovator in addressing public health and a symbol of the future of a revitalized Syracuse.

These partners aim to continue having a unique effect on the community’s public health by identifying areas where local organizations can collaborate to advance the health of everyone in the Near Westside neighborhood. Nancy Andrews, LIIF’s President and CEO, stated that “Nojaim Brothers Supermarket is so much more than a grocery store. It is a community hub, an innovator in addressing public health and a symbol of the future of a revitalized Syracuse.” Nojaim’s innovative approach to improving community health is just one example of the ‘healthy communities’ concept in practice and is paving the way for the kind of collaboration that LIIF envisions as the future for the community development and health sectors.

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