Youth entrepreneurs smile for the camera before deliveries.
According to Jamelah Issac, failure leads to success.
"The first store didn't work out; we didn't have all the ideas we have now," Jamelah said. "This time we are making it successful."
As a member of the Healthy Neighborhood Store Alliance - a program of Mandela Marketplace - Jamelah is responsible for bringing fresh, mostly organic food to her West Oakland neighborhood. She said she thinks of fellow community members as her customers.
What turned failure into success? She and her team members learned that the distributors, the local liquor stores, also were her customers.
The alliance - HNSA - has been developed and expanded since its beginning in 2008. After the failure at the first store, HNSA was able to partner successfully with three other stores.
Just last week, the group announced that Sav-Mor on Peralta and 14th has just become the newest HNSA partner.
Now, it plans to expand to an additional store by the end of this year.
In order to identify stores that will participate in the program, West Oakland Youth Standing Empowered students first referred to data supplied by the Alameda County Public Health Department. They identify which West Oakland stores are near public transportation, yet far from supermarkets like the Emeryville Pac N' Save. Then, they visit the stores as secret shoppers. Team members give individual stores ratings based on how the store treats its customers, cleanliness, proximity to bus stops and schools and whether it carries WIC food or accepts SNAP. Then they come together and compare notes to give each store a cumulative assessment.
Once a store is identified as a potential partner, the team has to sell them on the concept. They pitch to the store - about how important fresh, affordable, healthy produce is to the community at large. They answer any questions the store owners may have about price and delivery.
"The hardest part is getting turned down," Issac said. "The store owners want cheaper produce."
She said she has learned to explain to owners how her own understanding of healthy food has changed.
"I grew up thinking you should just avoid greasy foods or too much sugar," she said. "I didn't think deep into what they feed food with." She also mentions to them how important it is that pregnant women and small children don't eat food with lots of pesticides.
The project is a social enterprise so the youth focus on marketing and selling competitive products. Mariela Cedeno supervises the work of the youth and describes how they are borrowing from junk food distribution methods.
The HNSA Entrepreneurs follow the "Frito-Lay or Coca-Cola model," Cedeno said. "All the store owner does is pay the bill. The youth put up the shelving. Take out any waste. Replenish the weekly order. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the store owners."
"The store owners do get it," Cedeno continued. "It's not a huge money maker, but they like that it's run by youth."
Issac said she is just happy to see the fruits of her labors recognized.
"That's how I measure success, that the community sees that we care."
Slideshow of distribution process