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Program Urges Local Grocers to Sell Healthier Foods

Vineland downtown deli 1Originally published in The Press of Atlantic City, Thomas Barlas-Staff Writer

The baskets of apples, oranges and bananas are in plain sight for customers entering the Downtown Grocery and Deli on Wood Street.

The location is perfect for enticing store customers to buy a healthy piece of fruit instead of an unhealthy snack, said Sara Paciocco, of the city’s Health Department.

“It’s more available now that it’s in the open,” Paciocco said, adding she hopes more of the city’s mom-and-pop stores make the same kind of change.

The Downtown Grocery and Deli is one of five local groceries participating in the New Jersey Healthy Corner Store Initiative. The program urges those stores to sell more fruit, fresh vegetables and other products lower in salt, sodium and fat. Officials with various health-related organizations visited the store Wednesday to help launch the program, which is also operating in Camden, Trenton, Newark and New Brunswick.

While the program is geared toward all city residents, health officials say targeting the corner grocery stores is especially important for helping youths make healthier eating choices.

Studies show youths living in neighborhoods with those stores consume about 350 more calories each day, said Lisa Scheetz, operations director for the local YMCA, which is helping to coordinate the program. Those extra calories aren’t coming from healthy foods, she said.

Health officials said the program is especially important for Cumberland County, which annually ranks as the least-healthy county in New Jersey. Part of the reason is the inability of residents in the city’s urban centers to get fresh fruit and vegetables, they said.

Vineland, Bridgeton and Millville in Cumberland County are among 134 “food deserts,” or municipalities with poor access to healthy foods, in New Jersey. About 340,000 New Jersey residents live in those food deserts.

Downtown Grocery and Deli was the first store in the city to sign up for the program, said Emma Lopez, health educator with the city’s Health Department. Store owner Dolores Rodriguez allowed health officials to use her store to take surveys of customer needs and let customers sample healthier foods, she said.

Rodriguez’s son, Adniel Carlos Rodriguez, said his family wants to help encourage a healthier lifestyle in the city. That’s not always easy, especially for children, who often stop in the store just to buy candy, he said.

“People aren’t used to buying new things,” he said.

One of the healthier items they may be buying is a parfait treat developed at Rutgers University’s Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton. The center helps local entrepreneurs develop different kinds of food products.

Development of the parfait — yogurt with blueberries, cranberries and granola — began several years ago, said Diane Holtaway, the center’s associate director of food services. The parfait has scored well in taste tests, many of which were held at schools, she said. It should be ready for wholesale distribution soon.

Paciocco is one of two city Health Department employees who will work with local grocery stores to stock those healthier foods, Lopez said. The overall goal is to have about 25 stores enrolled in the program by September, she said.

Once that’s done, Lopez said she plans to bring in local farmers to work with the grocery stores. Cumberland County is one of the state’s agricultural centers, and it’s important for local farmers and shopkeepers to work together, she said.

The Power of a Collective Approach in Camden

Multiethnic Group of People with Colorful OutfitsSince New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Camden (NJPHK-C) became a presence in the Camden community, significant progress has been made in the partnership’s efforts to focus on policy and environmental change to reverse the rate of childhood obesity:

  • Camden schools and several faith-based service organizations have implemented wellness policies that guide food preparation and opportunities for physical activity.
  • The school district has earned the recognition “Breakfast in the Classroom Champion” by being among the 20 New Jersey districts with the highest percent of eligible students eating breakfast.
  • City parks in several neighborhoods have been reclaimed and refurbished by the residents and are now again sites for outdoor play.
  • More corner stores now offer healthy food choices.

These achievements are a tribute to the NJPHK-C coalition: Campbell Soup Company, the Food Trust, United Way of Greater Philadelphia & Southern NJ, and the YMCA of Burlington & Camden Counties. Together, these organizations along with other non-profit partners, community members, government officials and educators have risen to the challenge of making Camden a healthy community in which to live, learn and play.

Going forward, NJPHK-C and its partners will adopt a new model that offers even greater potential for impact. The model will address and focus on:

  • School wellness;
  • Active living and physical activity; and
  • Food access

The new model follows the principles of “Collective Impact” and embraces a new way of collaborating based on five conditions. Research shows that together these conditions can produce true alignment and lead to powerful results. The five conditions and the way in which they will influence the partnership’s operating methods are as follows:

  1. All five partners will agree to a common agenda to define the approach to the problem and solutions. They will continue to do the work of their own organizations, but when it comes to the common agenda, they will work as one.
  2. Continuous communication. They will meet regularly to talk through issues and solve problems and coalesce. In addition, when they communicate, they will speak with one voice to deliver the same message across the board, including the same branding and the same marketing.
  3. Shared measurements. Research on the collective impact model stresses that agreeing to a common agenda is useless unless accompanied by consensus on how results will be measured and reported. Consistency in collecting and measuring results will aid alignment, reinforce accountability and will let the partners learn collectively from their successes and failures.
  4. Mutually reinforcing activities. Each stakeholder brings unique resources and capabilities to the collective effort, and together, they will leverage those to accomplish the common agenda. Various stakeholders will be accountable for specific activities, and as a collective, they will reinforce each other’s activities and support each other in a more strategic way.
  5. Establishing a backbone organization that focuses on facilitating the work of the whole.

The charter now is to build the backbone organization. United Way of Greater Philadelphia & Southern NJ, and the YMCA of Burlington & Camden Counties are working together on this. The New Jersey Office of Faith-Based Initiatives awarded the collective an $80,000 Social Innovation grant and Campbell’s put up the 50% required match of $40,000. So with $120,000 to build the infrastructure, the partners are on their way.

All the partners feel confident that working within this collective impact model will enable them to be more mindful and more strategic. They also are making a strong effort to bring more people to the table, particularly expanding healthcare and business partners, so they can expand capacity.

This is an exciting time for Camden as the partnership explores the power and impact that collective leadership can bring to the city and its residents.

Newark Preschools Play CATCH

catch program This May, Newark is celebrating National Fitness Month in a big way with the introduction of CATCH in the city’s nine public preschools.

CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) is an evidence-based, coordinated school health program designed to promote physical activity, healthy food choices and the prevention of tobacco use in children. Newark’s nine preschools will join the 8,500 CATCH schools and after-school organizations across America that are teaching children that eating healthy and being physically active every day can be fun.

Dr. Marguerite Leuze, Health Services Director, Newark Public Schools has long been an advocate of CATCH. She brought the idea of piloting CATCH in four Newark preschools to New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Newark (NJPHK-N). She and Courtney Price, NJPHK-N Project Manager, took the concept to Samantha Lott-Velez, Interim Director, Office of Early Childhood, Newark Public Schools. Lott-Velez bought in immediately but envisioned all nine preschools benefiting from the program.

That vision became the reality when the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance stepped up to provide the funding as part of Healthy U – a collaborative initiative to combat the obesity epidemic among New Jersey children. As all result, all nine preschools will introduce CATCH curriculum and activities in their classrooms. A kickoff is scheduled for May 12th at 10:00 am, located at the Samuel L. Berliner Elementary School in Newark.

“Kudos to Jonathan Pearson, Executive Director, Horizon Foundation; Sue Cornell, Healthy U Director, YMCA State Alliance; and Michael C. Bright, President and CEO of YMCA Newark and Vicinity. They pulled the support together to make this happen,” said Price. “As a result, Newark’s three- to five-year olds will develop healthier habits earlier in their lives. CATCH has proven that establishing healthy habits in childhood can promote behavior changes that can last a lifetime.”

Novo Nordisk Enables a Climate of Wellness in a Trenton Middle School

Happy sporty children in gymThis spring, the Joyce Kilmer Middle School, is implementing A Comprehensive Approach to School Wellness. The approach will include environmental changes, such as the creation of a wellness room (complete with equipment), a cafeteria salad bar, expansion of the student garden, nutrition education for every student and physical fitness programming.

The initiative is made possible through a generous grant from Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company with more than 90 years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care.

Novo Nordisk, in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, saw significant opportunities to bring wellness initiatives to Trenton to target obesity. “The data from our community health improvement plan spoke volumes about the need for a wellness turnaround in the community,” said Marissa Davis, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Trenton (NJPHK-T) project manager. “Novo Nordisk was looking for innovative, encompassing environmental changes, programming and education. They were seeking to partner and collaborate with an organization that had capacity to implement a program with measureable objectives and a timeline.”

Several partners are teaming up to make this pilot program a success. ARAMARK will stock the salad bar and nutritious snacks in the wellness room. The YMCA of Trenton will offer fitness programming for students and staff so they can model healthy behaviors. SNAP-Ed from Rutgers Cooperative Extension will offer six-week nutrition lessons to all students. Isles will extend the garden, which will include raised beds and eventually a greenhouse, enabling students to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

When the Trenton Board of Education developed its District Wellness Policy, they included evaluation of each school’s culture of health as a cornerstone of the policy. The evaluation will enable the district to assess what schools are doing right and where more help is needed. The learnings from Kilmer’s experience will then be applied to four other Trenton middle schools.

“It’s a comprehensive way to infuse the school with health and embody the Culture of Health,” said Davis. “The Joyce Kilmer project coming on the heels of the District Wellness Policy will go a long way to creating buzz in the District.”

Trenton Preparing for Launch of Greenwood Ave Farmers Market

FarmersMarketVolunteers are busy preparing for the official grand opening of the Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market on Monday, June 15. The Greenwood Ave Farmers Market will be operated from the parking lot located at 427 Greenwood Avenue in Trenton and is scheduled to be open every Monday from 2:30 pm – 6:30 pm through October 26.

The family-friendly market will showcase Jersey fresh and tropical fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, eggs, bread and bakery items. Vendors include: Isles (Urban Farmers), Norz Hill Farm, Food Bazzarre, Franca’s Bakery and Trenton Meat Farms. Physical activities, nutrition education, health screenings and live music are also planned as part of the weekly events. The market will accept SNAP and WIC vouchers.

Opening day highlights include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, as well as taste tests and local entertainment.

“We are excited to bring the farmers market to Trenton residents and help make the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Marissa Davis, NJPHK-Trenton project manager.

The Farmers Market was made possible by the generous support provided by the New Jersey Department of Health, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids and the Hunterdon & Mercer County Regional Chronic Disease coalition. Partners also include the YMCA of Trenton, Trenton Healthy Food Network, the City of Trenton and Nexus Properties.

For more information, contact Marissa Davis at: mdavis@trentonymca.org.

Celebrate National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

National fitness monthMay is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services tells us that youth need 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day where they live, learn, and play. In addition to health benefits, regular activity gets the brain charging. Research shows that when children are physically active, they achieve higher grades, record better attendance and their behavior improves.

Since 2009, NJPHK has been focused on helping children and communities achieve a healthy weight through prevention strategies that support access to affordable healthy foods and increase opportunities for safe physical activity. The goal is to make the healthy choice the easy choice for everybody.

Safe Routes to School Grant Funds Sidewalk Improvements

NJPHK-Vineland (NJPHK-V) and its partners are celebrating a Safe Routes to School grant with far-reaching potential. The $275,000 grant will be used to improve the infrastructure around Gloria M. Sabater Elementary School making the environment safer for walkers and bikers.

Located in the city of Vineland, Sabater has the most walkers of the nine Vineland schools. The school has been a proponent of walk and bike to school days. Now, Vineland city engineers will add curbing, sidewalks and other improvements to the environment surrounding the school, which will ease the way for students.

Vineland was one of 24 New Jersey municipalities that received a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grant totaling, $275,000 from the state of New Jersey.

“We are thrilled to be selected as one of the recipients of the Safe Route to School Grant,” said Lisa Scheetz, project manager of NJPHK-V, “Being awarded this grant is another great milestone in the movement towards becoming a safer, healthier and more active community.”

Diabetes Prevention Underway in Vineland

As one of the first Live Healthy Vineland initiatives, the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA will be offering the YMCA diabetes prevention program.

Classes for Vineland city employees kicked off at Vineland City Hall in April, followed by programs for the community at Bottino’s Shoprite Supermarket.

The YMCA Diabetes Prevention program gives participants the skills and support they need to make lasting healthy lifestyle changes.

“We are so thankful Bottino’s stepped up to sponsor this program for Vineland residents,” said Lisa Scheetz, project manager for New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Vineland. “Thanks to Bottino’s and the Y, participants will enjoy a safe space where they can feel comfortable sharing and learning in private. It’s all about achieving a healthy weight, boosting energy levels, reducing the risk for diabetes and improving health for life.”

In addition, thank you to the Philadelphia Reinvestment Fund for providing a $10,000 grant to offer the YDPP free of charge to the citizens of Vineland.

Live Healthy Vineland Campaign Kicks Off

A $450,000 grant from the Partnerships to Improve Community Health (PICH) which is funded by the Center for Disease Control, is enabling New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Vineland (NJPHK-V) to take a giant leap towards community wellness.

The $450,000 is an initial grant toward a three-year award of $1.35 million and will allow NJPHK-V to expand its efforts to help reduce chronic diseases such as obesity and address environmental factors contributing to health disparities that currently affect nearly 75 percent of all Vineland residents.

As part of the “Collective Impact for Health Equity in Vineland City” initiative, NJPHK-V partnered with the Vineland City Health Department, Family Health Initiative, Stockton College and the Cumberland Cape Atlantic YMCA to win the grant. NJPHK-V will continue to work with these partners and others within Vineland to advance health equity. Within three years, the goal is to have healthier food choices in more corner stores, increased access to physical activity for children, and improved opportunities for the prevention of chronic diseases through clinical and community linkages.

“Health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential, said Lisa Scheetz, project manager for NJPHK-V. “I personally want to thank all of our partners who are helping us improve the health and well-being of Vineland residents. Together, we are striving to build a Culture of Health that will enable all Vineland residents to live longer, healthier lives now—and for generations to come.”

Trenton Students Learn the Safe Routes to School

Trenton+Robeson+School+Crossing+Guard+Moms+KidsTo celebrate New Jersey Walk and Bike to School Month in April — and to keep momentum going through the school year — some Trenton schools are learning about Safe Routes to School and applying that knowledge when they walk and bike to school.

Safe Routes to School is an important part of the District Wellness Policy, which encourages students to walk and bike to school where it is safe to do so and commits to working with authorities to identify and improve the areas where it is not safe.

Monument Elementary was an early participant in the Safe Routes to School program. This year, several more schools have joined the movement.

Jerry Foster, Transportation Safety Educator for Greater Mercer TMA, led assemblies at Christopher Columbus Elementary, Grant Elementary, Paul Robeson Elementary, Joyce Kilmer Middle School and Woodrow Wilson Elementary. At Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, the assembly was augmented by a Walk to School Day. Upon arriving at school that day, students could participate in a safety question quiz. Trenton High School has also participated in Daylight Twilight bike safety classes.

The assemblies focus on why it’s a good to walk to school and how to ensure safety while doing so. Students learn how to cross the street, where to cross and why it’s important to wear bright colors during the day and reflective or light-colored clothing at night and walk with a partner.

Foster also ran a Safe Routes to School bookmark design contest for grades 3-5 this year, which got a lot of participation from Trenton students, and was won by a 5th grader from Wilson.

“Trenton Board of Education’s Family And Community Engagement (FACE) department has done a great job connecting us with the schools to get assemblies and events scheduled. We also partnered with FACE, Trenton Boys and Girls Club and Bike Exchange to offer discounts for Daylight Twilight students who took our bike safety class. We’re looking forward to supporting Trenton’s Safe Routes to School infrastructure grants by working with schools to identify safety improvements like crosswalks, signals and lighting.”

In 1969, nearly 50 percent of American children walked to school in 1969. By 2009, that figure had dropped to 13 percent nationwide. “With Safe Routes to School and the Trenton Board of Education’s wellness policy, we are hopeful that more Trenton students will walk and bike more often,” said Marissa Davis, project manager for New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Trenton.

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