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Hopeworks ‘N Camden’s Food Advocacy Team

Camden’s teens are leading a program for healthy eating in the inner city. And the community’s already started eating better.

Hopeworks ’N Camden’s goal is to create a community fueled by healthy eating. It’s succeeding with the help of Rosemary Irizarry, Ashley Pena and Gemyra Wynn, who, with other teen ambassadors on its Food Advocacy Team, are turning healthy eating in Camden, New Jersey, into a reality.

Camden is a “food desert,” a place without readily available fresh, nutritious food. The supermarkets are on the outskirts of the city, leaving inner-city residents to rely on corner stores and bodegas that mostly offer processed, fatty foods.

Hopeworks ’N Camden, a nonprofit whose mission is to “seize the opportunity to heal and thrive in the midst of poverty,” trains Camden youth to use geographic information system (GIS) data to zero in on neighborhoods with the least healthy food. The team uses this info to update a Camden Food Access Map, which plots locations of corner stores that sell healthy foods. They then target specific neighborhoods for nutrition education. The team also creates partnerships with community gardens to provide fresh, healthy foods, and conducts community workshops.

The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey is dedicated to supporting organizations that make New Jersey healthier. It’s given a generous grant for Hopeworks’ N Camden to advance this food advocacy program.

Gemyra says the Food Advocacy Team has “rewired her brain.” She ate mostly unhealthy foods before she became involved with Hopeworks ‘N Camden, and the program has introduced her to better choices. Ashley, who was unaware of Camden’s “food desert” status until her sister introduced her to Hopeworks ’N Camden, says the Food Advocacy Team “makes everyone step up to make the community healthier.” Rosemary says she had no concept of healthy food before the program “lifted the veil off her eyes” and taught her a whole new way of eating.

Is the program having an impact on other young people and the greater Camden community? According to Dan Rhoton, Executive Director of Hopeworks ’N Camden, the answer is a definite yes. “Residents feel more comfortable eating fresh, healthy food, and corner stores are reporting an increase in sales of fresh foods,” he says.