WHEN MARILYN Valerio and her brother Nelson bought The Right Choice grocery in North Philly two months ago, they found that along with just about every chip, candy and soda known to man, former owners Irene and Rassedell Choice had introduced fresh fruit snacks to neighborhood children.

At first, Valerio had her doubts.

"I go through this with my own kids, so I thought offering healthy snacks was a great idea," she said, "but I didn't know they would sell. I was amazed."

She gazed fondly at the "Eat Fresh, Feel Good" refrigerated case filled with fruit salads, cut watermelon, veggie snacks, yogurt, 100 percent juice and 50-cent bags of grapes, cut apples, plums and peaches.

"I love that little box," Valerio said, laughing. "I make a lot of money on that little box, and I'm doing good for the community.

"Kids come in here before and after school, and grab the 100 percent juice instead of the Hugs that don't have no juice in them at all. It's great they have a choice."

That choice is the brainchild of the Food Trust - a nutrition-minded nonprofit on a federally funded mission to reduce the 50 percent childhood-obesity rate in Philadelphia's minority neighborhoods by offering alternatives to the sugary, salty, fatty foods at 600 corner stores.

The Food Trust gives $100 cash and a new refrigeration case to grocers willing to introduce 10 healthy foods.

A few of these stores - including Valerio's at Berks and Judson streets - focus on schoolchildren.

Valerio, whose in-store enthusiasm reinforces the nutritional advice that the kids are getting from the Food Trust's in-school programs, said her grapes, cut watermelon and fruit salad fly off the shelves of her new refrigerator.

"When the children ask for candy, I tell them the grapes are real sweet, too," she said. "Once they try them, they love them."

As she said this, Javon Smith, 4, approached the front counter, using both hands to carry a container of fruit salad that looked almost as big as he was.

His mother, Shamina Smith, said Javon learned about fruit salad in his preschool class at Project H.O.M.E., which is right down the street. Valerio smiled.

A couple of miles west of Valerio's grocery, children from John Welsh Elementary School on 4th Street near Dauphin spend alternate Thursdays at Maria's Grocery on 5th Street near Cambria selling fresh vegetables they've grown in the school garden to gung-ho customers like school nurse Stephanie Miklosey.

Before they started gardening, Miklosey said, "half of our children didn't know where tomatoes come from. I find that scary."

For the eight years she's been at Welsh, Miklosey has been fighting to upgrade the kids' nutrition, both inside school - "Beef jerky and cheese crackers! They call that lunch!" - and outside.

"If you convince a couple of kids a day to make healthier choices, you've made a dent," said Miklosey, who has strongly supported the Food Trust's programs at Welsh School. "Every day is a struggle, but we're going to do it."