First Lady Michelle Obama visits Inglewood to promote healthy choices

Feb. 1, 2012, 2:25 p.m.

Michelle Obama addressed a room full of local politicos, select community members and press.

On the site of a future González Northgate Market on Prairie Avenue in Inglewood, Michelle Obama addressed a room full of politicos, press and select community members as she promoted healthy eating in every community.

The First Lady's speech was part of a celebration for the California FreshWorks fund, an organization that's launching an effort to increase the number of grocery stores in underserved areas.

"Take what appears to be a tough problem and you bring a little hope to it," Obama said of the FreshWorks program as a whole.

About $264 million worth of hope actually. In fact, Mrs. Obama said that 1,500 stores, small grocers and national chains, have already committed to the effort and agreed to expand their storefronts or open new locations.

Sponsored by the California Endowment -- which also supports OnCentral -- along with a variety of partners, Freshworks is working locally with the Northgate Market chain to open new locations throughout Southern California. One store has already opened in San Diego with additional locations in the works for Inglewood and South L.A.

The mayor of Inglewood, James Butts, said the Northgate market in his neighborhood would make the people and the economy healthy, citing a dire need for fresh food options.

"As far as the eye can see, there are no healthy, affordable food options," Butts said.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa agreed and praised Mrs. Obama for promoting healthy living on a national level. "Her initiative, her conviction, has brought this issue to light," he said.

As the morning concluded with salsa/cumbia music and Obama taking photos with beaming members of the community, guests were handed reusable tote bags and allowed to "shop" from the stocked grocery shelves that served as a backdrop to the event.

Mellie Mondorf of Lynwood was in attendance with her son Robert. Between the two of them they had about six bags of groceries, full of bananas, oatmeal, jamaica, rice and olive oil. Mellie Mondorf said she's worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District for the past 35 years, and was happy to see the recent changes in the LAUSD school lunch menu. She said even the kids seem to actually enjoy the fresher, healthier choices.

And, she enjoyed seeing Mrs. Obama.

"This is the most wonderful thing that's ever happened to me in my life," she said.

Every First Lady has a pet project. Mrs. Obama's almost two-year-old "Get Fit" campaign and her efforts with FreshWorks are part of her goal to promote more active American lifestyles. She has appeared at multiple schools throughout the U.S., dancing alongside students as they have fun getting fit. Even Beyonce has publicly supported the campaign, filming a "Let's Move" music video and making personal appearances at school gyms full of screaming girls.

All of this hits home in Los Angeles in areas such as South L.A., where Villaraigosa said that obesity and poverty rates are three times greater than they are in communities on the west side.

Over the past few years, South L.A. has been the focus of healthy living initiatives on multiple levels. The City Council passed a fast-food ban on the area, an increasing number of non-profits are offering lessons in healthy cooking and organizations like Community Health Councils are doing in-depth reports on food availability and eating habits. Vernon-Central in particular has received two new full-service markets and will be welcoming a third, Northgate Gonzalez, in the near future.

The original Northgate market was created in 1980 after Don Miguel González immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. He mortgaged his home to open his first grocery store in what used to be a liquor store. Now there are dozens of Northgate markets throughout California overseen by Oscar González, Don Miguel's son, who is continuing the family business.

"This day is a confirmation of the American Dream," González said, adding that he had to pinch himself to remind himself that this was all real.

*The above radio story was reported and produced by KPCC's Shereen Marisol Meraji.

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