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Camden initiative secures $500,000 to improve residents’ health

Roots to Prevention will expand healthy food choices, increase income opportunities for urban farmers

A Camden group won a national grant competition that will increase both healthy food options and income opportunities for city residents.

Roots to Prevention Partnership (RTP) recently secured the BUILD Health Challenge award, which strives to reduce health inequities in U.S. communities. RTP is among 18 awardees nationwide, selected from more than 130 applicants. The award includes a $250,000 grant – plus a $250,000 matching contribution of cash and in-kind support from Virtua Health – to implement a new healthy-food access program.

From left, Nicole Vaughn, Rowan University; Koren Norwood, Camden County Department of Health and Human Services; Jonathan Wetstein, Parkside Business and Community in Partnership (PBCIP); April Schetler, Virtua Health; Bridget Phifer of PBCIP; and Greg Mayers, Virtua Health. - VIRTUA HEALTH

From left, Nicole Vaughn, Rowan University; Koren Norwood, Camden County Department of Health and Human Services; Jonathan Wetstein, Parkside Business and Community in Partnership (PBCIP); April Schetler, Virtua Health; Bridget Phifer of PBCIP; and Greg Mayers, Virtua Health. – VIRTUA HEALTH

The award is intended to support free and low-cost produce for eligible Camden residents, nutrition education, and city produce farming.

BUILD Health Challenge is funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other prominent organizations.

RTP’s long-term goals are to improve Camden’s food environment and create sustainable solutions. The group’s core partners include Parkside Business & Community in Partnership (PBCIP), Virtua Health, Camden County, Rowan University, The Food Trust, and the Camden Coalition of Health Care Providers.

“This award will enable us to encourage local health care providers to purchase produce grown in their communities,” said Bridget Phifer, executive director of PBCIP. “It will help us reduce hunger and the prevalence of diet-related illnesses while also supporting job creation, land redevelopment, and economic revitalization.”

“This is a visionary initiative, and we’re thrilled to support it,” said Dennis Pullin, president and chief executive officer of Virtua Health, South Jersey’s largest health system. “Social and economic factors have a huge impact on people’s health. The RTP initiative will address the roots of these issues to help the people of Camden live healthier, happier lives.”

RTP will also form a committee of Camden residents to provide insights and help guide the program, such as identifying the challenges residents face in accessing healthy foods.

Improving nutrition, supporting economic growth

The $500,000 in awards will partially fund these key activities for two-plus years:

  • Launch the “Food Bucks Rx” program at Virtua Health’s Camden Campus, to provide vouchers that can be redeemed for fruits and vegetables;
  • Establish six Food Bucks Rx (FBRx) redemption sites in Camden to expand access to healthy foods and other program benefits—such as cooking demonstration and health screenings;
  • Create income opportunities for local food growers by supplementing the FBRx food supply with locally grown produce via an expanded Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program; and
  • Collect and analyze data on these initiatives to measure their effectiveness and develop long-term solutions that promote economic development through urban farming as well as cultivate a healthier food environment in Camden.

RTP will now be able to connect food-growing organizations throughout Camden with a major new customer: Virtua Health’s Food as Medicine programs, including the Virtua Mobile Farmers Market and Virtua Food Pantry.

PBCIP ‘s Phifer expressed appreciation for another important partner, Camden-based Campbell Soup Co. “If it weren’t for the generous support of the Campbell Soup Co., this cross-sectoral collaboration could not have come together and ultimately completed a successful grant application — now awarded,” she said.

Anthony Vecchione, senior reporter, NJBIZ
Anthony Vecchione
Anthony Vecchione covers health care for NJBIZ. You can contact him at: Avecchione@njbiz.com.

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