Nearly 60 miles south of Kansas City, state employees from Missouri and Idaho were in Creighton on Sept. 27 touring what appeared to be on the outside one of the few gas stations located off Missouri 7.
Creighton Country Mart, a gas and food shop, is just inside the Cass County line, and serves a city with a population of 349 people — possibly even less than that, as far as Ricky Patel is concerned.
For people who live in the area, the only other nearby options are Dollar General and Casey’s General stores in Garden City, Mo., and Urich.
Patel, who commutes to Creighton Country Mart from Belton every day, has worked at the Creighton store for about 10 years.
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Not much had changed during the last few years at the convenience store, which offered alcohol and tobacco products at the forefront as well as candies, snacks, and a small selection of grocery items in the back.
While filling out some renewal paperwork for the Cass County Health Department in June, Patel was approached by a health educator who offered an idea.
Sarah Czech wanted to know what Patel would think of joining the “Stock Healthy, Shop Healthy” program offered by the University of Missouri Extension and Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
“I was really interested in ‘Stock Healthy, Shop Healthy’ and what could mean bringing healthier options to these communities where I can’t make a grocery store just plop down,” Czech said. “This community doesn’t have the resources to support it. ... I can’t make a grocery store appear, so the next best thing was talking with Ricky. How about we highlight what you already have?”
In Creighton, Patel agreed to give it a try.
As the local health department explained, “Stock Healthy, Shop Healthy” is a voluntary program designed to improve access to healthy, affordable foods by working with small gas stations or corner stores in communities, such as Creighton, where residents have limited access to supermarkets.
At least 11 other stores have participated in the program in the Kansas City area, according to Kara Lubischer, a University of Missouri Extension assistant professor and state specialist. The stores are in Lee’s Summit, Lone Jack, Gladstone, Kansas City, Raytown, and Edgerton.
With “Stock Healthy, Shop Healthy,” Lubischer said the goal is for Missouri food retailers to be selling more healthy foods than they might have been selling before.
Since starting the program, Patel and Czech said it’s been a positive shift. The store has seen an increase in healthy food items sold.
Among the most popular produce the store offers are bananas and onions, Patel said.
The manager also rearranged his store, relocating alcohol to the back corner and moving grocery items — such as canned fruit, canned vegetables, whole wheat bread, milk, eggs, and water — closer to the front.
“When they see it, they buy it,” Patel said. “... If you show them healthier options, they will grab that.”
With help from the local health department, the store’s shelves also have small signs (what Czech calls “shelf talkers”) highlighting healthy foods. At the cash register, customers can pick up a free bundle of recipes for meals that can be made with items offered in the store.
Last month, another state took notice of the program.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said it was interested in adopting a similar program of its own for rural communities.
Two health department employees from Idaho were in the Kansas City area last week with representatives from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services as well as Czech and Lubischer.
Of the dozens of participating businesses in the state, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services chose two stores to showcase during the visit — Gringo Loco in Kansas City and Patel’s store in Creighton.
Kristin Matthews, a SNAP program manager in Idaho, said she heard about Missouri’s “Stock Healthy, Shop Healthy” program at a national conference in February. Matthews was among the group touring Creighton Country Mart in September.
“I just thought that the Missouri program was unique in that it involves the community, so there’s a lot of community engagement and you have that aspect, but it also looks at things beyond fruits and vegetables,” Matthews said. “It takes into consideration what’s on the shelves as well. I think Idaho and Missouri are different in a lot of ways, but we have a lot of rural areas, like Missouri. ... Coming in here, we’re going to be working with a lot of stores that are like this in rural parts of the state.”
Patel answered questions and made small talk as the group wandered around the Creighton shop, picking up food and going down the aisles. His work improving the store’s food options aren’t over yet, he said.
“It makes a really good difference,” Patel said. “Business-wise, too.”
Where are the ‘Stock Health, Shop Healthy’ stores in KC?
At leas 12 food retailers participate in Missouri’s “Stock Healthy, Shop Healthy” program in the Kansas City area. Those businesses are shown in a list provided by the University of Missouri Extension.
▪ Creighton Country Mart, 708 A St., Creighton
▪ Meiner’s Market, 1299 S.W. Arborwalk Blvd., Lee’s Summit
▪ Peery’s Market, 37905 U.S. 50, Lone Jack
▪ 87th Street Market, 9007 E. 87th St., Raytown
▪ The Store, 6624 Raytown Rd., Raytown
▪ Blue Ridge Food Stop, 4704 Blue Ridge Blvd., Raytown
▪ Universal Tropical Market, 7519 N. Oak Trafficway, Gladstone
▪ Hy-Vee C-Store, 7117 N. Prospect Ave., Gladstone
▪ Nash’s Short Stop, 1 W. Frank St., Edgerton
▪ Hy-Vee C-Store, 207 N.E. Englewood Rd., Kansas City
▪ Gringo Loco, 3813 Independence Ave., Kansas City
▪ Al-Rahman, 2536 Independence Ave., Kansas City