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Clairton natives give back to their hometown

| Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, 4:01 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Trib Total Media
Clairton natives Scott and Ed Meena returned to their hometown to sell fresh produce to city residents, who have few opportunities to purchase nutritious food in the city.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Trib Total Media
Clairton resident Kris Julian chooses tomatoes at the Meena brothers' produce stand along Worthington Avenue.

Decades after leaving Clairton to start their careers, the Meena brothers have returned to their hometown as business partners who want to meet the needs of their former neighbors.

Ed and Scott Meena, who grew up along School Street near the city's football stadium and graduated from Clairton High School in 1965 and 1971, respectively, returned to Clairton this summer with a truck full of fresh produce. They started a produce stand along Route 837 and moved it to Worthington Avenue a few weeks later.

“This isn't really a moneymaker,” Scott Meena said. “This is to provide a service as much as anything else.”

With no grocery stores within city limits, Clairton residents have few options for purchasing fresh food close to home. While convenience stores and pharmacies sell staples including milk and bread, there is limited access to fruits and vegetables.

“This is giving Clairton residents the nutritional value they need in their diets,” Deputy Mayor Kathy Tachoir said. “It's all fresh fruits and vegetables that we haven't had here regularly in many years.”

The LifeSpan senior center along Miller Avenue operates a weekly farmstand in partnership with Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. It accepts grocery vouchers from low-income residents, but it's only open on Thursdays.

While the Meena brothers' operation does not accept food assistance vouchers, as they are not affiliated directly with a local farm, they are in town five days per week.

Scott Meena travels to Pittsburgh's Strip District every morning between 4 and 5 and makes his way to Clairton by 6:30. The stand is open Thursday through Monday from 7 or 8 a.m. to at least 1 p.m., based on inventory.

The Meena brothers' stand is part of a growing trend in providing affordable, fresh produce in local neighborhoods. And while they aren't in business to make a large profit, they hope to be successful.

“We're cautiously optimistic,” Ed Meena said. “The awareness of us being here increases daily. With correspondence on Facebook, we're getting reviews on our zucchini. The response from the community is very positive and the support of city officials is very encouraging.”

The Meena brothers say they're “serving Clairton one zucchini at a time.”

“You'd be surprised how many 50-cent sales we have,” Scott Meena said. “That's really what we're doing.”

With Scott Meena's background in building and construction — he worked across the country over the past four decades, recently moving into his brother's South Fayette home after many years in Florida — and Ed Meena's career as a Point Park University professor, the two are unlikely candidates for operating a produce stand.

“We're new at this, and we're learning as we go,” Scott Meena said. “We are figuring out what the people of Clairton want and trying to bring them what they need.”

The Meena brothers said their business venture has been like a high school reunion. They're seeing former classmates and meeting their families.

“It's a tremendous experience,” Ed Meena said. “We've certainly been able to reconnect with so many things.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.