Solve a Math Problem, Get Free Food: How the Lucky Candy Bodega Uses Math—and Kindness—to Help the Community

The Bronx bodega's challenge aims to help those in need—and keep those math skills sharp too

Ahmed Alwan sitting on the counter of his family's storeCourtesy Ahmed Alwan
Ahmed Alwan has helped behind the counter of his family’s store since age 11.

The challenge is simple: Answer a math question—say, what’s 8 x 8 + 50?—and get five seconds to grab as much as you can from Lucky Candy bodega’s shelves­, all for free.

For Ahmed “Medy” Alwan, 23, joy is as essential as breakfast—and regulars at his family’s corner store sometimes struggle for both. So he came up with a clever way to brighten his customers’ days. “I’ve always helped out people in the neighborhood,” he says. “They’ve known me since I was a little kid. I know half of them by name. And, you know, sometimes they need credit.”

Lucky Candy is located on a busy street in the Bronx, which is what’s known as a food desert, where affordable, healthy food is scarce. Many residents rely on neighborhood shops like Lucky Candy for their daily needs.

Introducing the “bodega challenge”

Enter the #bodegachallenge. When a young math whiz gets an answer right, one of two things usually happens. Some kids dart for the candy, and who could blame them? Others grab things like rice, oranges and potatoes, clearly thinking of family at home.

“They’re doing something good,” Berto, a student who stopped in after school, told Inside Edition. “Because here, we see a lot of people who don’t even have anything.”

Alwan covers the sprees with his paycheck. But his boss, aka his father, Saleh Aobad, doesn’t mind chipping in too. A Yemeni immigrant, Aobad knows that in one of the toughest, most competitive places in the U.S., a bit of help goes a long way.

“This changed our relationship with the community big-time,” says Alwan. “They’re showing so much love, and they’re lining up at the store for a chance to play.”

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest