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Fresh Corners boosts healthy store options in Penn Hills

| Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

Penn Hills is one of six Allegheny County communities to participate in the Fresh Corners pilot program, which will bring fresh produce closer to people who don't have quick access to a grocery store.

The project aims to help corner stores in Penn Hills, McKees Rocks, Larimer, Clairton, Braddock and McKeesport stock fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products as another option to the convenience fare of candy bars and potato chips.

“People really feel that lack of fresh produce,” said Helen Gerhardt, project coordinator, with Just Harvest, Pittsburgh nonprofit group. “We want to work with existing businesses.”

Fresh Corners is a project of Just Harvest and the Allegheny County Health Department's Live Well Allegheny.

Just Harvest will help businesses secure financing for refrigeration, storefront grants and find low-cost produce providers. It can also help to educates owners on marketing, food storage and store infrastructure.

Joyce Davis, executive director of the Lincoln Park Community Center, said the program is a good fit for Penn Hills, and that fresh produce is often the first item to be taken at food pantry events at the center.

There are six grocers, including a new Aldi that opened Oct. 1, in the 19 square miles of Penn Hills, but Davis said access is the issue for many residents.

“Transportation is such a problem in Penn Hills,” Davis said. “For those of us who have cars, it's hard to understand how isolated people are.”

Public transportation cuts have hit some neighborhoods such as Bessemer and Milltown harder than others, Gerhardt said. According to the Port Authority of Allegheny County, there were 19 bus routes in Penn Hills before service was reduced in 2007. Today, there are seven routes in Penn Hills.

Spokesman Adam Brandolph said that service reductions in the Penn Hills area mirror changes Port Authority made system-wide during that time.

Gerhardt said affordability also is a challenge for Penn Hills residents. About 7.7 percent of Penn Hills residents live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census.

Just Harvest leaders are in the process of discussing the program and getting feedback on communities and communities' food cultures from local stakeholder groups. Gerhardt said they will soon begin reaching out to get local businesses on board.

Interested business owners can contact Gerhardt at 412-431-8960.

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