Healthy Food Comes to Camden Families

Residents of two Camden housing communities received a very special delivery this year, and it wasn’t the kind left under a tree.

As part of her ongoing community health project to help Camden families live healthier lifestyles, Kathy Jackson, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, partnered with Farmers Against Hunger and the Housing Authority of the City of Camden to bring 22,350 pounds of fresh produce to the Branch and Ablett villages, which include more than 500 housing units.

Fresh ProduceThe deliveries began July 6 and continued through Thanksgiving, when the families received 3,200 pounds of produce.

“The goal for this project was to get fresh produce into low-income communities in Camden,” says Jackson, whose research focuses on community engagement and health in communities in need. Her community health project seeks to bring the nutritional needs of Camden families to light and to provide them with health education and outreach programs.

“In speaking with the residents, I’ve learned that they want fresh produce, but these are areas where access to fresh produce is difficult and it’s costly.”

To help meet the need, the Rutgers University–Camden scholar reached out to Farmers Against Hunger, which works under the umbrella of the New Jersey Agricultural Society with farmers across the state to deliver surplus produce to people in need.

This year, the food delivered to the Ablett and Branch villages was all seasonal New Jersey produce including tomatoes, watermelon, squash, cucumbers, corn, and eggplant in the summer, and peppers, squash, white potatoes, greens, and apples in the fall.

As produce coordinator for Farmers Against Hunger, Brian Strumfels, a 2006 Rutgers–Camden graduate and Bordentown resident, made the deliveries to the two Camden villages roughly once a week.

Kathy Jackson's research project to help Camden families live healthier lifestyles

Kathy Jackson’s research project helps Camden families live healthier lifestyles.

“Delivering fresh produce to very specific locations like Ablett and Branch is particularly rewarding because these are people who may not be able to get out to the store or who don’t have access to supermarkets,” Strumfels says. “They can just walk out their front door to pick up the produce we deliver.”

Jackson says her aim is to learn residents’ perceptions and beliefs about health, to identify any issues or barriers residents have faced, and work with them to help overcome those barriers so they can improve their health.

“The people of these communities do have concerns about obesity, providing healthy options for their children, and having limited resources to realize healthier choices,” Jackson says. “Fast food places are everywhere, they’re convenient and a lot of times are more accessible than a fresh produce market, so I think many families are more likely to eat fast food as the healthier options are more difficult to obtain.

“To me, this project has helped to not only provide Camden residents with fresh produce, but to also raise awareness of the importance of eating fresh, healthy foods,” she says.

Jackson says the reaction from families in the two communities has been positive and she is happy to fulfill a need while advancing Rutgers–Camden’s own civic engagement goals.

“Now, I want to build on it,” she says. “I’d love to work to establish some cooking classes, get students and community partners involved to educate the residents about healthy foods, and even get residents involved with gleaning their own produce. By working in partnership with the communities, we can find a way to better meet needs and provide resources to make the healthier choice the easy choice.”

A Medford Lakes resident, Jackson is an adult and family nurse practitioner who has dedicated her career to primary care, the prevention and management of chronic disease, and community engagement. Earlier this year, she received the American Association of Nurse Practitioners 2015 Nurse Practitioner State Award for Excellence.

Jackson earned her bachelor’s degree from Thomas Jefferson University School of Nursing; master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and Rutgers University; and her doctoral degree from the legacy University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Nursing at Stratford.

Posted in: Community Outreach

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