Community leaders call for collective impact
By Whitney Buchmann
On a Saturday afternoon in June, over 20 members of faith-based organizations that have participated in Camden Coalition’s Faith in Prevention program conducted a first-hand assessment of their Camden neighborhoods for available resources in healthy eating and active living. They were looking to document a wide range of conditions — among them, sidewalks that were broken, cracked, or obstructed; speeding or reckless drivers; and the availability of recreational spaces or classes and corner stores stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables.
While inputting the data, my preliminary reactions were to the lack of true recreational space. However, after a full analysis, the Healthy Eating & Active Living Community Assessment revealed a more robust set of findings:
- Cooking and Eating Healthy Meals: In spite of 90% of respondents reporting that they have the means to cook meals at home, one third of people do not eat a balanced meal every day. Half of the people said they had two or more healthy meals a day.
- Food Access: The majority of those surveyed shop for food at a grocery store even though there are none in the Whitman Park or Parkside neighborhoods. This seems to be a challenge since only about 40% of respondents use a car to access food while over 60% walk to get groceries. Over half of the respondents reported visits to the food pantry as a part of their food shopping routine. Food pantries were the second highest source for food – just behind grocery stores.
- Walkability: Considering one of the primary modes of transportation to access food includes walking, the walkability of the neighborhoods is not only important for active living, but also access to healthy eating. Almost 90% of the blocks walked by auditors had at least one barrier to safe walking.
- Active Living: Of the 28 recreational spaces observed, the primary amenity at 23 was “open area for free play.” Over 80% of those open areas were actually vacant lots or abandoned properties. An additional three of the “recreational spaces” auditors viewed as abandoned houses or garages that had potential for clearing to be actual recreational spaces.
As mentioned in our previous coverage of this issue, no one is in a better position to assess neighborhood conditions, interpret the data, and recommend changes to a community than the residents themselves. In reviewing these findings, community leaders seemed frustrated that the size of intervention required in their neighborhoods would call for much more resources than our coalition currently has at its disposal. The suggestion of purchasing equipment to re-purpose a vacant lot was seen as a band-aid on a deeper wound.
Community assessments are used to provide key stakeholders, decision-makers, and community members with information that can be beneficial in planning and improving identified concerns at the policy, system and environment level. Therefore, community leaders focused their recommendations on sharing these findings widely in an effort to leverage partnerships and funding for a larger impact. They are calling on local businesses, non-profits, and government to come together for sidewalk improvements, creatively positioning food pantries as a resource to facilitate healthy eating habits, and bringing recent revitalization efforts to their front doors.
About the Grantee
We are a multidisciplinary nonprofit working to improve care for people with complex health and social needs in Camden, NJ, and across the country. The Camden Coalition works to advance the field of complex care by implementing person-centered programs and piloting new models that address chronic illness and social barriers to health and wellbeing.