One of New Jersey’s health care systems is teaming up with local actors to address food insecurity in South Jersey.
On Thursday, Inspira Health announced it will partner with schools and food banks to provide monthly food pantries, featuring healthy foods and nutrition counseling for residents at a convenient location: their children’s school.
“To truly live our mission of improving the lives of all we serve, we must think and reach beyond the walls of our facilities,” John DiAngelo, president and chief executive officer of Inspira Health, said in a prepared statement. “Partnering with like-minded organizations, who share our commitment to building healthier communities, is essential if we want to effectively address the social determinants of health that challenge so many of our neighbors.”
According to Inspira, its school-based pantries are expected to provide for more than 1,800 children and their families during the current academic year. Assemblies will also be held at the schools, the organization said, to promote and educate on wellness and ways to include physical activity in daily life. Inspira Health and Inspira Foundation volunteers will provide support for the food pantries.
Its partners for the initiative are the Food Bank of South Jersey, Community FoodBank of New Jersey, the Gloria Sabater Elementary School and Casimer Dallago Early Childhood Center in Vineland, the Millville Child Family Center, and the Woodbury Junior-Senior High School.
The triennial Community Health Needs Assessment identified access to healthy food as a major challenge for residents in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties, Inspira said, with 13 percent of households in Cumberland County experiencing food insecurity in 2019, and 9.2 percent in Gloucester.
Meanwhile, Salem County residents travel the furthest for food, on average, than any other county in the state, according to the health system.
Inspira announced it will also work with the Food Bank of South Jersey and the Community FoodBank of New Jersey to address, and alleviate the impacts of, social determinants of health with the opening of food farmacies at its Bridgeton and Woodbury health centers.
Staff will identify, work with and connect patients with the facilities where they will meet with a registered dietitian and receive nutrient-rich food that is appropriate for their specific medical conditions. The program includes regularly scheduled meeting with the dietitian and food for up to one year, with the goal of helping food farmacy customers develop healthy eating habits.
“[F]or patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes or heart failure, access to foods that will help them manage their conditions can mean the difference between feeling well and a trip to the emergency department,” Dr. Alka Kohli, executive vice president and chief clinical and population health officer for Inspira Health, said in a prepared statement. “And good health really does start with great food. We are excited to work with our local food banks who bring expertise and experience in providing good food to our neighbors.”