Healthy Communities Create Healthy Citizens in New Jersey

August 25, 2017

Pastor Hall in the garden created with Faith in Prevention funds. The church recently harvested vegetables from the garden and held an event where individuals were able to eat what they had grown.

Trenton, New Jersey, is considered a food desert.  It is oversaturated with stores selling nutritionally void, unhealthy food. And with only three grocery stores in the entire city, finding fresh, healthy options is difficult. Without proper nutrition and access to healthy, fresh foods, families are at-risk for developing chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

Trenton Pastor Rupert Hall has experienced the effects of living in a food desert.  Rupert spent the majority of his life eating food he could grab quickly on his way to and from work; food that was often full of sugar and fat. Together with his wife Anne, they realized their lifestyle needed to change for the better. That's where the Healthy Communities Create Healthy Citizens project comes in.

Together with United Health Foundation, the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute (NJHCQI) created the Healthy Communities Create Healthy Citizens project in Jersey City, Trenton and Cumberland County. The project helps local organizations expand access to innovative healthy lifestyle and health literacy programs. In Cumberland County, the grant will support a "healthy corner store" initiative, through which local storeowners will be incented to sell fresh produce and display healthier foods at the front of the store.

In Trenton, the grant will support a number of health topic seminars at local food pantries and churches. Residents can "shop" at the food pantry, eat a free healthy lunch, learn about diabetes prevention and chronic disease self-management, participate in fitness-related giveaways and receive helpful reading materials.

The Trenton Health Team contacted Pastor Rupert to invite his church to participate in the "Faith in Prevention" program.  During the six-week program, participants learn about nutrition and physical activity and nurses track biometric information.  The program also provides mini-grants to fund the costs of the workshops and encourage participants to implement policies, systems and environmental changes promoting healthy living.  

At the end of the six-week program at Rupert's church, the nurse measured changes in biometric information.  Pastor Rupert received scary news - he was obese and had very high blood pressure. But, with the knowledge and experiences he gained from Faith in Prevention, he felt empowered. With the support of his wife and the faith community, he began to take steps, quite literally, to get healthier.

Now, Pastor Rupert walks to his local meetings and has replaced the sodas in his office mini fridge with water bottles.  The church used some of the mini-grant funds to create an exercise room, complete with a treadmill, stationary bike and free weights that he and Anne use, along with other congregants.  Rupert has noticed he's been losing weight, and pledged to keep in touch with the nurse throughout his health journey to monitor his progress and make sure he is on the path to a healthier life.