HARLEM — Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, who has cooked at the White House, whipped up one of the Obamas' favorite snacks — chicken and quinoa lettuce wraps — for a crowd gathered to kick off a new kind of health food store.
The West Harlem Community Healthy Food Hub at 625 Lenox Ave. opened for the first time Wednesday morning with a special cooking demo by Samuelsson, who is now chef at the Red Rooster.
“It’s important for people to not just be able to know how to cook healthy foods but to be able to afford them. This is an easy dish that you can prepare from ingredients here,” Samuelsson said as he made the wraps.
The food hub will be part food pantry, part farm share and part community center, said Colleen Flynn of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which works with local nonprofits for revitalization projects.
The space will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. People who need food can apply to pick up three days worth of free produce and other items on a monthly basis.
LISC developed the idea and worked with the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund for the funding and West Harlem Group Assistance, which secured the space. The food will come from a variety of sources including the New York City Food Bank and the Corbin Hill Food Project.
“A space like this is very important, especially in this area,” said Jeremy Abolade, who is in charge of community outreach.
About 30 percent of the residents in the neighborhood live below the poverty line and are more than a 10-minute walk to the nearest grocery store, according to LISC.
Even if residents live near a store or a bodega, the produce there typically won't be as fresh as it is at the food hub, Abolade said.
The ultimate goal of giving people access to affordable food is to tackle the area’s high rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes. The idea is to get people to live healthy lives before they have to go to Harlem Hospital, which is only a few blocks away, Abolade added.
“You can have a hospital in the area and still have a high level of health risks,” he said. “They are great for offering treatment but we are giving people the information they need before they get hypertension or diabetes.”
Apart from being a food pantry, the Community Food Hub will also team up with Corbin Hill Food Project, which will run a subsidized farm share every Tuesday, which will accept food stamps as payment, said Doreen Wohl, the former executive director of the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, who is helping as a consultant.
Additionally, the food hub will host community events like free health screenings, cooking workshops and nutrition seminars, Abolade said.
"I think I would go to this," said Charles Jenkins, who lives above the food hub. "There aren't too many places like this around here."
Jenkins buys fresh produce from farmers markets that come around every week. Having a space open 5-days a week is more convenient, he said.