The Bodega Makeover Project

Hugo Balta

“Why don’t you have any fresh fruits and vegetables here?” That’s the question that inspired Evelyn Brito’s mission of connecting communities through access to healthy food options through The Bodega Makeover Project.

Evelyn was visiting bodegas in her neighborhood looking for fresh fruits and vegetables for her daughter, but mostly found junk food and boxed produce. Her inquiry about the lack of fresh, nutritious foods was met with the same answer over and over again, “Our bodega lacks the resources needed to provide healthier alternatives.”

Understanding the positive impact that anchor businesses like bodegas have to neighborhoods, as well as the economic challenges these corner store owners have in competing with large grocery chains – the Boston resident decided to do something about it.

The Bodega Makeover, a docu-reality web series highlights the story of bodega owners in an effort to motivate community organizations and corporate sponsors to collaborate in the bodega transformation that’s one part facelift, one part viable business model, and one part providing nutritious foods.

“Food Deserts are part of the problem that contributes to the lack of resources these stores lag in”, explains Brito. “About 23.5 million people live in food deserts. Nearly half of them are also low-income. Bodegas can play a vital role in decreasing that number by providing more than just healthy options but as a resource to the community within walking distance.”

Food deserts occur due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and lack of resources like bodegas – making it an especially Hispanic-Latino problem.

A report by the National Council of La Raza found that “counties with large Hispanic-Latino populations have a greater proportion of the people with limited access to grocery stores (29%), than other counties (21%).” The risk is even greater for Latino children and low-income people.

Bodegas are not just a place to buy culturally relevant foods reflecting the demographic of the neighborhood; it’s also a meeting place. “I remember going to the bodega with my father to buy freshly peeled oranges, merengue music playing in the background, and learning stories about my family in the Dominican Republic. Bodegas connects us all”, says Brito.

Brito is an accomplished producer and director. “I studied Film Production at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood, California and moved back to Boston to continue my passion for the arts. My experience working for nonprofits gives me a unique perspective to write stories that are socially relevant to my local community”, she said in an interview with NENANI.

The Bodega Makeover series hosted by Jerry Diaz is available on Amazon Prime.

The next bodega to be featured in the makeover series is the Vega Brother’s Mini Market in Boston. The year-long journey of working with the Vega family and partners in modernizing the store, improving inventory, and putting support systems in place culminates with the Saturday, September 26 grand opening.

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“We’re going city-to-city looking for Bodegas in need of a serious makeover”, says Brito. “We need to tell their stories.”

(Cover photo credit: NENANI)