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New signs highlight an array of fresh produce at the Los Compadres Market and Restaurant. HEAC staff built a relationship with the owner over three years.

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South LA Cornerstone

South Los Angeles Students Spearhead Cornerstore Conversions, Capturing Their Success in Online Videos

The Accelerated School in South Los Angeles is surrounded by an urban "food desert" where fast-food restaurants and convenience stores vastly outnumber produce vendors and supermarkets, making it difficult for residents to eat a nutritious diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables. Six of the high school's students decided to do something about it. They approached their own neighborhood store owners, encouraging them to sell fresh produce and other nutritious foods and offering hands-on assistance to help them do so.

The Coronado Market, owned by the padrino (godfather) of one of the students, Magali Bravo, was the first to undergo a "cornerstore conversion." In the summer of 2007, with her padrino's cooperation, Magali and her fellow students transformed the market's display racks and signage to showcase healthy snacks like apples, bananas and oranges, while moving junk food like potato chips and Cheetos to the back of the store.

In 2008, Los Compadres, a second market directly across the street from the school, received a similar makeover and students (now numbering nine) continue working with both store owners to ensure that the changes are sustained. Their efforts have attracted both local and international media attention, from the Los Angeles Times to a European television documentary; and the students themselves have produced a series of short videos highlighting root problems and exploring possible solutions. Their videos—collectively titled Where Do I Get My Five? (as in, five daily servings of fruits and vegetables)—were written, filmed, and acted by the students in a two-year collaboration with Public Matters, a group of artists, educators and media professionals engaged in neighborhood-level social-change projects. In addition to youth and community empowerment, the project stressed civic engagement, ingenuity and humor, media strategies and community relations—skills that also support the students' development as future community leaders.

One five-minute video, You Can't Put a Price on That, tells the story of the Coronado Market conversion. Another, Meet Me at Third & Fairfax, chronicles student Lae Schmidt's arduous two-hour bus ride from South L.A. to the nearest Whole Foods supermarket in her quest for better quality and variety of fresh produce, and her subsequent meeting with City Council Member Jan Perry.

The videos, completed in 2007, have screened at L.A. City Hall and at conferences around the country, serving as a springboard for discussion and action on youth engagement and public health. Additional videos, made in 2008, will be available 24/7 on the web site, which includes a step-by-step tool kit for cornerstore conversion designed to help other communities launch similar initiatives. Meanwhile the students have strong allies in a coalition that includes numerous city and county agencies and community-based organizations, along with proponents of L.A. City Council's Fast Food Moratorium, a temporary ban on new fast food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area that includes South L.A.

Besides the positive changes they have achieved in their community, the students have taken what they've learned back into their own homes, where their families are now shopping, cooking and eating more nutritiously.

For more information:

Learn about the community of South Los Angeles.

Sharlene Gozalians, Youth Coordinator, Healthy Eating, Active Communities (HEAC): (323) 235-6343,

Aurora Flores, Project Coordinator, Healthy Eating, Active Communities: (323) 235-6343 x2791,