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York City will roll out its Healthy Corner Store Initiative for four local shops and is still looking for a fifth.

Announced in York City Mayor Kim Bracey's State of the City address in March, the program will funnel grant money to five stores around the city in an effort to help expand access to fresh produce and other healthy food.

The city's bureau of health will administer the initiative, giving microgrants of $1,000, according to Craig Walt, community health services supervisor at the bureau.

Starting July 1, the following stores will receive the grants for 12 months: Lee's Food Market at 564 N. Pershing Ave., Pak's Food Market at 750 E. Princess St., and stores at the corner of West Jackson and South Beaver streets and West Market and Penn streets.

Any other store in the city — especially ones in areas not very close to those four — may apply for the fifth grant.

Walt spoke in a news conference Thursday in front of Lee's Food Market. Flanked at the meeting by York City acting director of economic and community development Shilvosky Buffaloe and Lee's Food Market owner Sangwoo Lee, Walt said these grants mostly will go toward helping better present and advertise the healthy foods.

Right now, Walt said, pretty much all of the advertisements are for candy, soda, cigarettes and other products generally considered bad for you.

After the news conference, Lee headed back behind the counter of his store. To his left, stuck on the inside of the front wall, are dozens of little pictures of people.

"All customers," he said.

Lee said his store gets fresh produce every week, and he'll find some way of better presenting it — on Thursday, none was easily visible from the front of the store.

Both the WIC and SNAP government programs, which help low-income people buy food, include healthy food vouchers. Walt said one of the goals is to get people who have these benefits to use them more.

For the county as a whole, 68 percent of people are overweight or obese and 38 percent have high blood pressure, according to an assessment commissioned last year by the Healthy York County Coalition.

Only 4 percent of people in the county eat the three servings of vegetables a day they're supposed to get, Walt said shortly after the program was announced.

And, Walt said, of the 16 census tracts in the city, only two aren't considered "food deserts" by the new USDA definition of the term, which refers to a low-income area with poor access to a grocery store. The administration used to say that a food desert was any place with no grocery store within a mile, but it recently has shortened that to a half mile, Walt said. Which makes sense, he said, because many city residents don't own cars.

"Even a store within a mile is not close," Walt said Thursday.

The food desert label isn't the be-all and end-all of the discussion — it's just one metric of many to consider when talking about this issue, he said — but Walt added it's clear many parts of the city don't have consistent access to healthy food, a fact he hopes this program can combat. And that's important, especially considering how many people end up suffering from the likes of heart disease and diabetes, Walt said.

"We know that eating healthy is one of the best preventative measures," he said.

— Reach Sean Cotter at scotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @SPCotterYD.

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