Food insecurity and access continues to be a hot topic among community groups seeking to improve the quality of life in Camden, where most of the approximately 80,000 residents rely on one of the over 25 corner stores for their primary source of groceries. Faith-based organizations that have participated in the Camden Coalition’s Faith in Prevention program have played an important role in encouraging their members to adopt healthy lifestyles and nutrition by making powerful connections between their health, faith, and healing. Now, congregations are learning to take their Faith in Prevention lessons to the next level by working together to promote health in their neighborhoods.

Through support from the New Jersey Healthy Communities Network’s funding collaborative, the Camden Coalition is working with seven organizations in the Parkside and Whitman Park neighborhoods to conduct a community assessment on healthy eating and active living. We chose these two neighborhoods based on the locations of the faith-based organizations that have participated in our Faith in Prevention program. These groups have already participated in the six-week Faith in Prevention healthy eating and active living curriculum, which has sparked policy, systems, and environmental changes within their congregations. By inviting them to assess the needs of the broader community, we hope that they will be encouraged to work together and apply the Faith in Prevention lessons at a neighborhood level.

On April 30, champions from each of the invited congregations, as well as an anchor neighborhood organization with aligned initiatives, gathered at the Camden Coalition office for their first planning meeting. To build on work that had already been done, the champions reviewed activities proposed in a Parkside Healthy Eating and Active Living Action Plan created in 2017. Based on the activities that resonated most with them, the group outlined the types of data that they could collect during a neighborhood walk audit and accompanying survey that could provide them with the information they need to support the activities. Some of their initial ideas included:

  • Assessing healthy options at local corner stores;
  • Conducting a food environment assessment of the neighborhood, including asking residents about the kinds of food they eat and where they shop for them;
  • Auditing neighborhood walkability by noting unlevel, cracked, and missing sidewalks;
  • Conducting an inventory of recreational spaces; and
  • Compiling lists of fitness activities available in their neighborhood.

Because participating organizations represent adjacent neighborhoods — one of which has more established initiatives related to healthy eating and active living — the group plans to compare the data collected in Whitman Park to that of Parkside to gain insight on the benefits of these established programs and how they could serve as blueprints for other neighborhoods in need of healthy resources.

Champions from locally-based institutions have played a critical role in inspiring creative approaches and understanding the existing resources in the neighborhoods, where the boundaries are, and who should be involved or made aware of the initiative. The group is so excited to work alongside other organizations in their communities to improve the quality of life for the neighborhoods that they’re even planning their t-shirts for their June walk audit!

Learn more about the Camden Coalition's partnerships with faith-based organizations.

Working with faith communities to expand healthy change to neighborhoods

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