Previously, when a customer entered Vega Brothers Mini Market in Dudley Square, Roxbury, they were greeted with advertisements for cigarettes and soda and the store offered processed foods with limited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. Owner Javier Vega wanted to make substantial changes to his establishment to increase the number of healthy food options for his customers and community.
Now, thanks to the help of Bodega Makeover, a web-based documentary series, the market will reopen its doors this Saturday, September 26, showing off its extensive remodel, including new refrigeration, lighting and shelving, that will allow Vega and his family to sell more fresh, nutritious items. The ribbon-cutting event will be featured on a Facebook livestream from 1:30 pm-2:30 pm.
“Good health doesn’t start at the hospital but is part of everyday life,” says Evelyn Brito, executive producer of the series. “It’s what we eat, our environment and the people we’re surrounded by. Bodegas are the soul of the community and many times, owners are neighborhood leaders. Some Roxbury residents need to take two or three buses to a large grocery store and that’s not an option to some families. The ‘quick eats’—processed foods sold around the corner are easier to buy. Changing what a bodega offers makes healthy options more accessible.”
Joe Betancourt, MD, MPH, vice president and chief equity and inclusion officer at Massachusetts General Hospital, understands the importance of bodegas in the community. His grandfather opened a store in Spanish Harlem in New York City after immigrating from Puerto Rico. Betancourt remembers the community that was created through the bodega, his grandfather and the store’s customers.
Mass General was one of several area organizations that sponsored the project and subsequent store improvements as part of its mission to improve the health of surrounding communities. “Research has shown people want to make healthy choices, but it’s a matter of doing that with available resources,” says Betancourt. “The Bodega Makeover project will facilitate that want by providing healthy options, but we will expand on that as well. Mass General plans to work with the Vega Mini Market, Bodega Makeover and the area neighborhoods to organize pop-up job fairs, offer health education classes and make ourselves available to communities that need us.”
Betacourt and Brito also will discuss the Bodego Makeover’s success on Friday, October 9 as part of this hospital’s Hispanic Heritage Month events.