Camden Initiative Wins Nationwide Competition, Secures $500,000 in Grants to Improve Residents’ Health

   New "Roots to Prevention" initiative will expand healthy food choices for residents
                             and increase income opportunities for urban farmers

Camden, N.J. - January 14, 2020 - A Camden group has won a national grant competition that will increase both healthy food options and income opportunities for city residents.

Roots to Prevention Partnership (RTP) recently secured the
BUILD Health Challenge® award. RTP is among 18 awardees nationwide, selected from more than 130 applicants.  

The award includes a $250,000 grant — plus a $250,000 matching contribution of cash and in-kind support from Virtua Health — to implement a new healthy-food access program. The award will support free and low-cost produce for eligible Camden residents, nutrition education, and city produce farming.

The BUILD Health Challenge aims to reduce health inequities in U.S. communities. It is funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and other prominent organizations.  

RTP’s long-term goals are to improve Camden’s food environment and create sustainable solutions. The group’s core partners include Parkside Business & Community in Partnership (PBCIP), Virtua Health, Camden County, Rowan University, The Food Trust, and the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers.

“This award will enable us to encourage local health care providers to purchase produce grown in their communities,” said Bridget Phifer, executive director of PBCIP. “It will help us reduce hunger and the prevalence of diet-related illnesses while also supporting job creation, land redevelopment, and economic revitalization.”

“This is a visionary initiative, and we’re thrilled to support it,” said Dennis W. Pullin, FACHE, president and CEO of Virtua Health, South Jersey’s largest health system. “Social and economic factors have a huge impact on people’s health. The RTP initiative will address the roots of these issues to help the people of Camden live healthier, happier lives.”

RTP will also form a committee of Camden residents to provide insights and help guide the program, such as identifying the challenges residents face in accessing healthy foods.

Improving nutrition, supporting economic growth

The $500,000 in awards will partially fund these key activities for two-plus years:

  • Launch the “Food Bucks Rx” program at Virtua Health’s Camden Campus, to provide vouchers that can be redeemed for fruits and vegetables.

  • Establish six Food Bucks Rx (FBRx) redemption sites in Camden, to expand access to healthy foods and other program benefits — such as cooking demonstration and health screenings.

  • Create income opportunities for local food growers by supplementing the FBRx food supply with locally grown produce via an expanded Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

  • Collect and analyze data on these initiatives to measure their effectiveness and develop long-term solutions that promote economic development through urban farming as well as cultivate a healthier food environment in Camden.

“This is what community health is all about: neighbors taking care of neighbors,” said April Schetler, assistant VP of community health engagement at Virtua Health. “Virtua is deeply committed to the health and wellness of the communities we serve. We are extremely proud to be a part of this movement, and grateful to the BUILD Health Challenge for its support of the RTP initiative.” 

RTP will now be able to connect food-growing organizations throughout Camden with a major new customer: Virtua Health’s Food as Medicine programs, including the
Virtua Mobile Farmers Market and Virtua Food Pantry.

Phifer of PBCIP also expressed appreciation for another important partner: Campbell Soup. “If it weren’t for the generous support of the Campbell Soup Company, this cross-sectoral collaboration could not have come together and ultimately completed a successful grant application — now awarded,” she said.

“RTP believes in the health care sector’s capacity to support a healthy local food economy,” added RTP administrator Jonathan Wetstein. “We also recognize the need to bring more partners to the table. The more RTP grows, the more resources and opportunities exist for local food growers and food-prescription recipients to participate in the future of urban farming and ultimately improve community health.”

About the BUILD Health Challenge

BUILD is a national program that supports partnerships between community-based organizations, health departments, and hospitals/health systems that are working to address important health issues in their community. Each community collaborative addresses root causes of chronic disease (also known as social determinants of health) in their local area by leveraging multisector partnerships and working with their local community. To date, BUILD has supported 55 projects in 24 states and Washington, DC.

BUILD stands for Bold, Upstream, Integrated, Local, and Data-Driven, which together form a powerful model to transform community health. The BUILD Health Challenge award provides funding, capacity-building support, and access to a national peer learning network to enhance collaborative partnerships locally and address a city’s most pressing health challenges.