From Bonnie Petrauskas, Director, Corporate Contributions, Johnson & Johnson
This winter, I had the pleasure of attending New Brunswick, New Jersey’s first public forum on what can be done to improve access to readily available, nutritious, safe and affordable foods at all times to help people lead an active, healthy lifestyle. Known within public health circles as an effort to create “food security,” the meeting was the result of a collaborative effort by Johnson & Johnson, Ellijah’s Promise and the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO), among other organizations. Ellijah’s Promise provides culinary training, education, employment, social services and nutritious meals to empower underserved residents in New Brunswick, and offers opportunities for community service. DEVCO initiates redevelopment projects to aid in New Brunswick's economic revitalization.
The local community came together in a big way for this event, creating necessary dialogue around this issue. In New Brunswick, like many cities in this country, residents face many challenges in accessing healthy foods from socioeconomic factors to a lack of understanding about healthy food choices, among other issues. According to The United States Department of Agriculture’s most recent Economic Research Service report, 14.7 percent (17.4 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2009. The forum provided a venue to explore the root causes of food insecurity in the community and identify opportunities to achieve a coordinated and efficient community food security effort within New Brunswick.
At the event, residents and community leaders from different non-profit organizations and agencies talked about what can be done to improve school lunches and the food selection in supermarkets and corner markets. They also advocated for more community gardens, food pantries, soup kitchens, farmers markets and social services. Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap and the keynote speaker at the forum, called for more long-lasting solutions to food insecurity, instead of temporary fixes. The forum also featured break-out workshops about a range of topics, including how to cook healthy food while on a budget and about how to increase awareness of the impact a good diet has on nutrition and health. These sessions gave residents the opportunity to not only learn more about the challenges at hand, but also brainstorm possible solutions.
As those of us in attendance heard again and again, solutions exist and there are working models in cities across America. The key to success, though, is creating a collaborative effort that involves different community groups that care enough about the issue to create lasting change in New Brunswick. The passion I saw in the local residents and community leaders that were engaged in the forum provides assurance that the city of New Brunswick will continue to work collectively toward creating a stronger food system.