Students Provide Somethin' Fresh to Bayview
By Michaela Domer and Dana Ullman, staff producer and staff photographer
December 14, 2006
A group of young women has found a way to bring healthy alternatives through volunteer work to a community with limited access to fresh fruit. With the help of Chris Mittlelstaedt, founder and CEO of Fruitguys, a fruit delivery service in South San Francisco, these students are learning how to run a business as they balance their obligations of work, school, and family.
Ashley Avalos (left) and Tiffany Williams have fun as they make deliveries. They are part of Somethin' Fresh.
Chronicle photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice
Healthy Revolution in Bayview Hunters Point
By Heather Knight, Chronicle Staff Writer
October 28, 2006
Just about every child in San Francisco's Bayview-Hunters Point knows the location of the nearest corner store or of the local "candy house"—a makeshift convenience shop, loaded with sugary sweets, that is run out of a neighbor's apartment.
But finding the nearest outlet selling fresh produce is another story. "There's no fruit houses!" Ashley Avalos, 18, said with a big laugh. "No vegetable houses—nothing!" agreed her friend, Tiffany Williams, 18.
The young women, along with another friend, Candice Pierson, 21, spotted a perfect business opportunity to fill this gap—bringing fresh fruit to their neighbors' homes with their new delivery service, Somethin' Fresh. For $10, they'll take a sack filled with 20 pieces of fruit to any business or home in the neighborhood.
On a recent Friday afternoon, they delivered bananas, red grapes, gold kiwis, pluots, Empire apples, Bartlett pears, Asian pears, peaches and Sunkist oranges. Leonard Jefferson, a security guard at the local branch of Union Bank of California, hungrily dug through his bag.
"I don't know where you live, but if you didn't bring me my fruit, I'd find you," he told the young women before erupting in a booming laugh. "I eat fruit all through the night. It cleans you out inside and keeps you healthy, and I like to stay healthy."
The nonprofit Hunters Point Family started Somethin' Fresh as part of a growing grassroots movement to bring fresh produce to a neighborhood that suffers from a host of health problems, as outlined in a recent, eye-popping report by the city's Department of Public Health.
Residents of Bayview-Hunters Point are hospitalized more than residents in any other neighborhood in the city for almost every common disease, including asthma, heart disease and diabetes, according to the public health report. While myriad aspects of life in Bayview-Hunters Point contribute to this—including high levels of industrial pollutants and violence that scare some residents into staying inside and not exercising—the lack of healthy food sold in the neighborhood certainly doesn't help.
According to the report, alcohol, tobacco and junk food are the most commonly sold products in Bayview-Hunters Point stores. Just 5 percent of the food sold in the local stores is fresh produce.
"An apple, maybe, or an orange if you go to the right store," Williams said of the typical offerings. "Maybe a banana. Nothing more than that."
The lack of fresh produce in Bayview-Hunters Point is particularly glaring when compared with the fare available in the rest of San Francisco, a city known for its high-quality food, gourmet grocery stores and famous restaurants.
Dr. Nadine Burke, a pediatrician with California Pacific Medical Center, studied the availability of healthful food in Bayview versus the Marina for the UCSF School of Medicine in 2005.
In the Marina, which was 83.8 percent white and where residents earned a median income of $84,710, there were 112 restaurants, five convenience stores and one fast-food joint. Residents paid an average of $1.09 for a loaf of bread. The average distance to the nearest fresh produce was a quarter-mile, Burke found.
In Bayview-Hunters Point, which was 5.4 percent white and where residents earned a median income of $37,146 annually, there were 28 restaurants, 13 convenience stores and six fast food joints. Residents paid $1.94 for a loaf of bread. The average distance to fresh produce was 1.15 miles.
"It's appalling," Burke said. "When you look at rates of heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, etc., it directly correlates with access to some of these basic things that people need to keep themselves healthy, like fresh fruits and vegetables."
Chris Mittelstaedt became acutely aware of this as a member of the San Francisco Chronic Disease Prevention Consortium, run out of the health department. The North Beach resident is the founder of the Fruitguys, which delivers fresh fruit to offices. He thought something as small and basic as fruit could make a difference in the neighborhood.
He partnered with Hunters Point Family, which does youth outreach, which chose Avalos, Williams and Pierson, all alumnae of its youth programs, to run a business. They are using Mittelstaedt's produce for free until they can start making a profit on their own.
"Before I came into the Somethin' Fresh thing, I had no idea about running a business," said Avalos, a student at City College. "Fruit isn't my passion—it's the community. It feels good doing something healthy for the community."
Another new home-delivery service, Front Door Farms, has recently sprung up, and six local shop owners have committed to stocking their shelves with healthful food. Both of these stem from the work of Literacy for Environmental Justice, a nonprofit group in Bayview-Hunters Point.
Twelve youths, ages 16 to 21, run Front Door Farms, bringing a mobile farmers' market stand to Malcolm X Academy on Tuesday afternoons and Gloria R. Davis College Preparatory Academy on Friday afternoons. Twice a week, they deliver boxes of organic, locally grown fruit or vegetables to neighbors' homes for $8 to $12, depending on the order. So far, they have about 35 clients.
"A lot of things are coming together," said Sudeep Rao, executive director of Literacy for Environmental Justice, noting that the health department, other city agencies and grassroots organizations in Bayview are all taking notice of the problem at once.
It's not always easy going, though. Takai Tyler, director of Hunters Point Family, said some residents are leery of fresh produce they've never seen before and don't necessarily know what to do with a papaya, a kiwi or artichoke hearts.
"They're just exposed to the junk in the candy houses and the corner stores," she said. "You have to educate people so they understand the connection between what they eat and their health."
Williams, a freshman at San Francisco State who aspires to become principal of her alma mater, Burton High, said she doesn't feel like her neighbors are losing out anymore.
"I feel like we were losing out," she said. "But now we're making a difference. People can't really complain about it because it's here now. They just have to take advantage of it."