Adapting in the World of COVID
Just like countless other organizations, Healthier Somerset has felt the magnitude of COVID-19’s impact on the work it does for the community. At the start of 2020, Healthier Somerset devised a thorough plan that would address health needs in Manville Borough through the partnership of key stakeholders – Rutgers Cooperative Extension Family and Community Health Sciences Department of Somerset County (FCHS), SNAP-Ed at Zufall Health, RWJUHS and Alexander Batcho Intermediate School (ABIS). All the players were in place and the goals of beginning a school garden and launching a CATCH program in the spring were only a few months away from fruition.
Then, COVID-19 hit the state in mid-March. Schools were forced to move to online platforms, organizations needed to rethink the way they did business and society as a whole needed to shift its expectations. On May 4th, Governor Murphy officially declared that schools would not resume in-person teaching for the remainder of the academic year. The team prepared for this possibility and worked collaboratively to find creative solutions so that they could still address the needs in Manville within the new confines of COVID-19.
With this new mandate, outdoor gardening is no longer a feasible option for ABIS in 2020. Rutgers Cooperative Extension FCHS has been working directly with the two special education classrooms that were selected to build and run the garden in the first year of this project to implement alternatives. Despite the setback of no longer being able to have an outdoor garden, Rutgers Cooperative Extension FCHS and the teachers are eager to begin indoor gardens in the classrooms starting this fall. One of the teachers expressed her excitement for this new opportunity for her students, “I think they would love the experience and responsibility.” Planning for this modified garden is already underway as the ABIS teachers and Rutgers Cooperative Extension have researched quality tower gardens from Tower Garden by Juice Plus. The group has even prepared for the possibility of in-person classes not resuming in fall of 2020. Should that be the case and online learning is the only option, conversations are already being had about giving the tower garden to the teachers and/or providing students with a small home gardening kit. Although the location of the garden may be changing, Rutgers Cooperative Extension FCHS will still support the program whether in-person or virtually so that students can be educated on the fundamentals of gardening and healthy food selection. COVID-19 will continue to impact programming, but the innovation of the team at and supporting ABIS will ensure the needs of the community continue to be met.
About the Grantee
Healthier Somerset is a coalition created to improve the health and well-being of those who live and work in Somerset County. We promote healthy lifestyles through collaboration among 50 partner organizations representing thousands of Somerset County residents, businesses, schools, nonprofit organizations, public health officials, healthcare providers, government, and faith-based organizations.