A Bold Initiative to Reduce Childhood Obesity and Hunger in Camden

October 10, 2012

At Campbell Soup Company, every day is food day. As we work to “Nourish Our Consumers” we are also dedicated to “Nourishing Our Neighbors.” In February 2011, Campbell announced a $10 million, ten year commitment to reduce childhood obesity and hunger in our hometown city of Camden, New Jersey. Since that time, we have developed our Healthy Communities program whose focus is to measurably improve the health of our children in the communities where we live and work. The initial phase of the program is focused on Camden, Campbell World Headquarters; the program will grow to our other Campbell plant sites nationally and globally.

Healthy Communities Camden logo

The Healthy Communities program strategies include: food access; physical activity/access; nutrition education, and public will. Camden is a city of approximately 78,000 residents, 23,000 of whom are children. There is one full service grocery store on the outskirts of town and about 160 corner stores or bodegas. Access to fresh, healthy affordable foods is not only a challenge in our city; it is a matter of equity. To begin to address this issue, the Healthy Communities program is working collectively with local and regional partners to implement programs on a community level and devise strategies for an equitable food economy on a systems level. Our collective work extends from gardens to groceries. Among our strategies is a Healthy Corner Store Initiative led by The Food Trust. All of the corner stores in the program have been strategically selected based on their proximity to the sites with which we work.

Campbell Soup Foundation planting gardens in Camden

Campbell Soup Foundation teaching kids about fresh produce

At our partner sites, four schools and one community-based organization, we have planted gardens, with the Camden City Garden Club that the students tend, harvest and glean. The produce from the gardens is incorporated in a six week Cooking Matters® course facilitated by the Food Bank of South Jersey. Who would have guessed that a preschool student would exclaim “kale pizza is my favorite pizza!”?

Not only are the students learning where their food comes from and how to cook it, they are also participating in nutrition education classes with the Food Trust. One student expressed her interest in different fruits and veggies while admitting she had never before eaten a salad.

While we consider the children our front line for advocating change in healthier eating habits, we also know the critical importance of working with parents and caregivers. As a result, the Cooking Matters® classes are also provided to families with a focus on healthy meals that can be replicated at home. Several of the family classes occur in the Campbell Consumer Test Kitchen which can facilitate 5 families for a cooking class and are supported by employee volunteers. The families participate in a nutrition education “game,” cook dinner with their children, share the meal around a large table in the consumer test kitchen, and leave with the recipe and a bag of groceries so they can replicate the meal at home. A ten year old student exclaimed that after the taco class, when he tasted lettuce and tomatoes for the first time in his life, he now eats salads regularly at school.

Campbell Soup Foundation / Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers

Perhaps the most opportune time to influence change is during a woman’s pregnancy. Together with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, a partner organization, we are working with their Pregnancy and Parenting Partners (P3) to instill healthy eating habits and good nutrition during and after pregnancy. The women in the P3 group will participate in a Cooking Matters® course in the Campbell Kitchen and the Women of Campbell, one of our many affinity groups, have adopted the P3 women. WOC will volunteer with the P3 group on a variety of programs and will throw them a baby shower before their babies arrive. The volunteerism does not end there: for the following year of well baby visits, the WOC will remain engaged and focused on how we as a food company can provide nutrition education to our extended community.

The impact Campbell has in the community will be illustrated during our Make a Difference Week, October 13 – 20, when the vast majority of Campbell employees will volunteer in our hometown communities nationally. The activities in which they are involved are largely focused on food access, nutrition education and physical activity. Even our CEO, Denise Morrison, and her corporate leadership team will be at one of our local Head Start program centers creating a healthy snack with the preschoolers and conducting a nutrition education lesson with them. Our Healthy Communities partner, The Food Trust, will lead the fun teaching everyone a new peach salsa recipe. Inside the company and far beyond, food day is a priority for Campbell employees everywhere, every day.

Kim Fortunato Campbell Soup CompanyKim F. Fortunato is Director of Healthy Communities for Campbell Soup Company

Throughout the month of October, the Dodge blog will feature blog posts related to food issues and food systems in honor of Food Day 2012.

For a complete archive of our food related articles, please click here. If you are hosting a Food Day event, please let everyone know in the comments section below!

Images courtesy Campbell Soup Company