South City’s Juice Box uses healthy food to promote nutrition, community

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There is an old saying that when there is darkness, there is also light. For a neighborhood in South Grand that is filled with gang violence and poverty, a local store called Juice Box serves as its light.

The Juice Box offers community involvement along with healthy food choices at its new location at 3101 Arsenal. (Globe Staff)

The Juice Box offers community involvement along with healthy food choices at its new location at 3101 Arsenal. (Globe Staff)

Juice Box at 3101 Arsenal St. is not your normal convenience store; it is a social enterprise that has become a haven for the residents of that neighborhood due its advocacy of healthy living and its homey environment.

Its owner Shawn McKie, a vegan, previously worked for GNC, a nutrition center that sells vitamins and other health products. However, he was faced with a sudden tragedy: his mother had a stroke.

“I had to take a leave from GNC and take care of my mother,” McKie said. “After caring for her, I had an epiphany: why not use my experience of caretaking for my mom and working at GNC in order to create a way that would help everyone live a healthy lifestyle.”

He decided to open a corner store in Augusta, Georgia, that would sell pro-health merchandise such as protein bars and vitamin supplements.  Thus, the first Juice Box store was created. However, McKie later moved to South Grand, St. Louis.

McKie’s was astonished when he saw the broken condition of the neighborhood he had moved into: gang violence, high crime rates, and poverty.

“The neighborhood I moved into was a food desert, which is a term that is used for communities that do not have easy access to grocers or cannot afford to buy their products,” McKie said.

Thus, McKie’s goal expanded: he not only wanted to promote healthy living, but he wanted Juice Box to be the solution to the food desert problem and be a safe haven for residents during grim times. He not only wanted Juice Box to grow and develop as an enterprise, but he wanted the neighboring communities to develop with it.

“I think an essential aspect of Juice Box is the fact that is community owned, which plays on people’s trust factor,” Mckie said.  “Despite all the gang violence, no one messes with this store and there are no robberies. A big reason why people come to Juice Box in the first place is because it is like a second home for them.”

Juice Box has many programs for kids and adults that promote healthy living and education and builds teamwork within the community. Every year, Juice Box’s senior customers and its teenage customers work together to make harvest vegetables from the community garden.

There is also a poetry slam two days away month where people from all ages get to show off their artistic talent. There are also subtle ways Juice Box helps the community, such as allowing kids to do homework there and having daily health clinics.

Juice Box has been doing wonders for South Grand neighborhoods and its efforts have been recognized, most notably by First Lady Michelle Obama who gave a nod to Juice Box as “one of the most innovative early stage social enterprises in the nation” during a speech about the Social Innovation Fund. McKie said that he is thinking of expanding Juice Box to other locations in St. Louis.

McKie wants their programs to help the future generation live healthy.

“I do not want them to have to endure the health hardships that many people in our current generation have been facing,” McKie said.  “I feel helping achieve this goal is something I am obligated to do.”

To learn more, visit Juice Box’s website.

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