Northam recognizes Norfolk food stand working to combat hunger, keep teens off the streets

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Local Virginia Beach honey, farm fresh eggs from Parksley and homemade gourmet lemonade are all up for sale along Ballentine Boulevard in Norfolk four days a week.

It can all be found in an area of the city where finding fresh food is often not for the faint of heart.

The Grandy Village, Chesterfield Heights communities are food deserts. Food deserts are defined as areas where at least a third of the population does not have ready access to a full-service grocery store.

It’s why five years ago Karen Willoughby-Bailey, with Youth & Family Empowerment Services, founded Youth Earn & Learn Fresh Produce Stands.

“We’re all about keeping kids off the streets, training and developing our next generation of leaders, CEOs and entrepreneurs, all while reducing the effects of food insecurities and food deserts,” Willoughby-Bailey said.

The stand sells everything from heads of broccoli to banana pudding and accepts EBT payments.

The students ages 12 to 17, known as “ambassadors,” man the stands. They bake the brownies and cookies for sale, assemble and package the salads, chat with customers, ring up the groceries and bag them.

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Much of the produce comes from “disadvantaged” local farmers, according to Willoughby-Bailey. Products also come from other small local businesses such as Hampton Roads Honey.

The program is funded through a grant from the Virginia Department of Social Services Faith and Community Initiative.

On Monday afternoon around 3:30 p.m., right across the street from Chesterfield Academy, roughly a dozen teens dressed in red polo shirts did their best impersonation of a NASCAR pit crew to set up the stand for a very special guest.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) came to issue a proclamation to the group in recognition of hunger action month in Virginia.

“This is a way of allowing our youth to learn about where these products are grown and we know they are healthier than a lot of other things people eat especially in food deserts,” Northam said. “It’s a win-win.”

Northam interacted with the ambassadors and sampled some of the honey.

While Willoughby-Bailey appreciates the attention, she said the reaction of the regular customers is still the best for her.

“They are appreciative of these young people serving the community,” Willoughby-Bailey said.

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