AP NEWS

Bridgeport neighborhood market wins national grant

February 13, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — A multi-year effort to bring fresh vegetables and job training to the impoverished East End paid off on Wednesday when the Aetna Foundation announced that the local Coalition of United Reach Equity won a major award in the company’s nationwide competition in the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge.

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Hundreds of people descended on Stratford Avenue for the morning event, with a large, packed tent set up in the street and traffic rerouted at the new East End Pop-Up Market & Cafe, where dozens of volunteers who put the winning entry together celebrated along with local officials and Gov. Ned Lamont.

The highlight of the half-hour ceremony was the presentation of a $250,000 check to the coalition to improve access to healthy foods for underserved people. Dozens of other communities throughout the nation were also recognized by the insurance giant, with Mecklenburg County, N.C., winning a half-million-dollar prize.

The funding for the market was supplemented by an unrelated $50,000 investment last year from MGM Resorts International, which wants to build a casino in the state’s largest city.

Lamont praised the volunteers, including union trade workers who worked to build-out the market. “I know this is fresh food that comes from local Connecticut farms,” Lamont said. “What I love is to see a community standing up and rising up. It’s that type of spirit, confidence and enthusiasm that is getting Bridgeport on the rise and getting Connecticut back and going.”

Dr. Garth Graham, president of the Aetna Foundation who is a health expert and spokesman, said that the passion of the neighborhood. “We see people who represent change,” Graham said, adding that applications for the grant came from Alaska to Florida. “We see people committed to change. This is really to recognize the passion and I say the vision of those individuals.”

Deborah Caviness, president of the Greater Bridgeport Opportunities Industrialization Center, Inc. and a chief organizer of the bid for the award, said that the East End has been lacking local sales of fruit and vegetables for over 30 years, but with the award will come better health care, job training and small business development for the neighborhood.

“We may be small, we may have limited resources and we don’t have no money but we can get the job done,” Caviness told about 200 people jammed into the tent.

“We’re seeing more progress, more opportunity and what’s important for health and our citizens in the city of Bridgeport,” said Mayor Joe Ganim, thanking Lamont for his interest in the city.

Volunteers recalled the work they put together, including trips to Vermont and Massachusetts to look at similar operations.

“Hell hath no fury like four black women with time on their hands,” joked Kristen Dubay-Horton, another volunteer.

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT