For years, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral had helped hungry families with its food pantry. But a few years ago, the parish found that it needed to do more, as many people in the local community lacked access to produce and other healthy items.
So the Trenton, N.J. cathedral opened a farmers’ market, providing the neighborhood with a regular spot to get fresh fruits and vegetables. Knowing that many low-income families live in the community, the church ensured the market could accept funds from programs such as WIC (the federal Women, Infants, and Children program). They opened a children’s garden, so kids could see how produce is grown. Chefs and other instructors also came to the market to provide free lunches and offer classes for those who wanted to learn what to do with all that healthy food.
"A lot of those vegetables, people had never seen before," explains Clara Gregory, who helps oversee the market for Trinity. "So what we decided to do, we decided to cook the veggies" to show people how to make them."
Gregory spoke about the market during the Shaping New Jersey annual partnership meeting last week. The farmers’ market at Trinity is one of more than 100 programs that makes up Shaping New Jersey, a partnership launched in 2009 to bring public and private groups together to create a statewide plan to combat childhood obesity.
Along with Trinity’s successful farmers’ market — which the cathedral is planning to expand to other parishes, by the way — partners gave updates on other projects designed to bring down New Jersey’s childhood obesity rates.
There’s the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, headed by the New Jersey chapter of the Pediatric Council on Research Education, to help hospitals take steps to increase breastfeeding rates in the state. Officials at the New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition, meanwhile, are working to ensure the state’s employers follow breastfeeding laws.
That’s not the only workplace changes being pushed by Shaping NJ. The American Cancer Society is working with the coalition to improve unhealthy workplaces by helping employers incorporate practices such as discounted (or even free) gym memberships and providing healthy food options during workplace meetings.
Groups such as The Food Trust are working to bring healthier food to corner markets, and supermarkets to food deserts — New Jersey has 25 percent fewer supermarkets per capita than the national average, according to Shaping NJ — while other partner organizations are helping to improve childcare facilities by increasing time for physical activity and limiting exposure to unhealthy food.
The ultimate goal of Shaping NJ is to have all the organizations join together to effect significant change in New Jersey, says Peri Nearon, the director of the Office of Nutrition & Fitness for the state Department of Health & Senior services.
"We’re trying to make the connection," she says.
Click here for more information on Shaping New Jersey.