13
January
2023
|
15:53 PM
America/New_York

Everyone in New Jersey should have access to healthy food. Enter the statewide Growing Healthy Pantries initiative

3 MINUTE READ

Summary

Horizon joins forces with New Jersey's five food banks with a $200,000 grant to increase access to healthy foods and nutrition education for hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans in need

If the term "food bank" makes you think of canned goods, you might be surprised at the work the Growing Healthy Pantries initiative is doing in New Jersey.

Consider the rutabaga.

Carlos Rodriguez, CEO and President of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, tells a story about rutabagas that says a lot about what a modern food bank can be:

"We were having a hard time distributing a large box of Jersey-grown rutabagas. Everyone’s heard of a rutabaga, but not everyone knows what one is. So we did something very simple. We taught our staff how to prepare them by sautéing them with simple herbs, and then we did taste tests at local pantries and provided recipes. We went from barely being able to move a box of rutabagas to moving them by the big 18-wheeler truckload."

Teaching people to prepare and enjoy rutabagas is certainly an appealing idea for the rutabaga farmers of New Jersey, but it's an even better one for the 650,000 New Jersey residents who need some help to be food secure.

Creating modern food pantries with healthy choices that matter

One of the modern food pantry’s goals is to educate people about nutrition so they can be healthier and food secure. It’s also about giving people meaningful choices, as they would have in a grocery store. "Sixty percent of the food we are distributing is protein, produce and dairy," says Triada Stampas, President and CEO of Fulfill, a food bank based in Monmouth County. "We focus on the most nutritious,  healthiest foods. We meet folks in their moment of need, and also work to prevent that need."

To further these efforts, Community FoodBank of New Jersey and Fulfill joined together with the other three food banks in New Jersey—Food Bank of South Jersey, Mercer Street Friends, and NORWESCAP—to launch “Growing Healthy Pantries”. Horizon, through the philanthropic Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, has historically supported the food banks and pantries and provided initial funding of $200,000 for this unprecedented cooperation.

Horizon’s increased focus on supporting non-medical factors that affect health

For years, Horizon has increased its focus on supporting factors outside the doctor’s office that influence health.

“A healthier New Jersey starts with good and healthy food,” says Jonathan R. Pearson, Horizon’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and the Executive Director of The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey. “The many thousands of residents who rely on 1,000 food pantries across the state that are served by these five food banks will have access to new resources, shared information, and tools to help them become more food secure and more healthy.”

As a health solutions leader, Horizon is supporting organizations that help feed and educate people, while the food banks are feeding people in a way that makes them healthier. It's a natural collaboration and one that will have funding from Horizon to succeed.

A new way to nourish

“We want to nourish our neighbors in a new way," says Rodriguez, who is insistent on using that word to refer to those who take advantage of food pantry offerings: neighbors. Everyone is part of the community; regardless of their circumstances, they are all neighbors. And neighborhood knowledge is priceless. "We deal a lot with diabetes,” he explains.“Well, if we know exactly what's going on with the health of a community, we can make sure those neighbors who suffer from diabetes can get what they need."

Ensuring the best food pantry experience, statewide

The Growing Healthy Pantries initiative will create a "toolkit" to educate all partner food pantries in the program. While some pantries are large operations, others are modest. Volunteers, Stampas says, often work part-time "with an abundance of heart but maybe not a lot of other resources."

"We’re establishing a shared standard of excellence that New Jersey food banks can all agree on,” Stampas continues.“So that a food insecure family anywhere in New Jersey can expect to get the type of food and support they need."

“This is truly an example of a collaborative partnership in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” says Pearson. “Through Growing Healthy Pantries we are bringing together the leading organizations that have been at the forefront of feeding individuals and families in need. As New Jersey’s largest and most trusted health insurer, we have an opportunity to magnify the impact we have, improve food security, and promote greater health equity.”