A Unique Partnership is Addressing Food Insecurity in the Denver Metro Area
When you walk through the door of Family Asia Market on East Colfax in Denver, one of the first things you might see is a big smile from owner Halen Lwin (pictured below). Lwin and her family came to the United States 22 years ago from Myanmar (Burma), and many of the store’s customers are also from Denver’s Burmese and other Asian communities. It doesn’t take long to understand that Lwin is not just a local retailer—she is a passionate woman who cares deeply about her community. Hang out in her store for a few minutes and you might overhear her talking about the importance of education to a young teenager, helping a mother decide which fruits and vegetables to feed her growing children, or explaining the benefits of a healthy diet to a customer with high cholesterol.
Another thing you’ll quickly notice is that the amount of healthy food for sale is significantly larger than most convenience stores—an entire aisle is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, including many culturally relevant foods that can be difficult to find. Maintaining these options isn’t easy, Lwin explains: “People often ask why I don’t have more or cheaper [fresh] items. I tell them, I am just one person with a small shop. I have to go all the way to the [big chain grocery] store to buy as much as I can afford—and carry—then haul it back here each time.”
Despite these kinds of challenges, Lwin is committed to offering fresh fruits and vegetables in a neighborhood with very limited options when it comes to healthy, convenient, affordable food. For the past three years, Family Asia Market has been working with the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, a Denver Environmental Health project funded by the Colorado Health Foundation to help address food insecurity in urban areas. And in early August the market became one of the first convenience stores to participate in LiveWell’s Double Up Food Bucks program, which helps low-income families bring home more fresh, healthy, locally grown food.
“We’ve wanted to implement Double Up in corner stores since we launched in 2016,” says Amy Nelms, LiveWell’s Double Up Food Bucks program coordinator. “Unfortunately we kept running into barriers—like finding local produce at the right quantity and price, and getting that produce from the farm to the store—that made it difficult to get the program to work in small family-owned convenience stores.”
But Nelms and her team never gave up, and thanks to a special partnership between LiveWell Colorado, the Denver Healthy Corner Store Initiative, and local farmer and healthy food advocate Beverly Grant of Mo’ Betta Green MarketPlace and Seeds Of Power Unity Farm, a slightly customized version of Double Up Food Bucks is now available at four convenience stores in the Denver Metro Area. When customers on SNAP (food stamps) buy $1 of local produce, they get $1 for the purchase of any produce at these unique retailers: Family Asia Market, Ben’s Super Market, Uptown Corner Store, and Syracuse Market.
“The Corner Store Initiative works with small convenience stores and markets throughout the city to help them sell healthier food, so working with Double Up Food Bucks was a natural fit because it’s another way to incentivize the purchase of fruits and vegetables in these stores,” says Healthy Corner Store Program Administrator Lindsay Saperstone (pictured with Halen Lwin, above/right). “I fundamentally believe that everyone deserves to have access to fresh, healthy food, so I’m especially excited about how Double Up Food Bucks can help make produce more accessible and affordable for the communities we’ve been working with for several years.”
Nelms echoes this enthusiasm. “After a lot of back and forth and hitting road blocks, it’s so exciting to see it come together, for all these moving parts to benefit a local farmer and distributor, small retailers, and consumers in communities with limited healthy food options,” she says. “There’s still a lot to be worked out in terms of capacity and sustainability, but we have to start somewhere, and this is a big step toward our goal of increasing access to healthy food in Colorado.”
Give to Double Up Food Bucks
LiveWell’s Double Up Food Bucks program is a threefold win: It allows low-income Coloradans on SNAP (food stamps) to double the amount of fruits and vegetables they bring home, provides new sales for family farmers and local producers, and keeps food dollars circulating in local communities.
For more information about Double Up Food Bucks Colorado—including how it works, how to get involved, free marketing materials to help spread the word, and a map of participating locations—please visit our fully bilingual website, doubleupcolorado.org.