The Food Trust is taking care of the nutritional needs, and we’re there to help navigate any social barriers they have. It’s a holistic approach.

At the Camden Coalition, we always try to meet people where they are instead of having them come to us. Whether that’s in the hospital, on the street, or in their home, it’s important that there are as few barriers as possible between our community members and the services and support they need.

Starting this spring, the places we meet people and connect them to services have expanded to include Cathedral Kitchen, which provides meals to unhoused Camden residents, and two busy corner stores that are members of The Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative. Camden Coalition community health workers (CHWs) have been tabling at one or more of these locations every week in an effort to connect community members to care management and other resources. At the corner stores, our partners at The Food Trust provide nutrition education and “Heart Bucks” — coupons that can be redeemed for healthy foods and beverages.

“The Food Trust is taking care of the nutritional needs, and we’re there to help navigate any social barriers they have,” says Marisol Caban, Associate Director of the Camden Coalition’s Care Management Initiatives. “It’s a holistic approach.”

This partnership emerged from the Camden Food Security Collective, a group of local organizations, systems leaders, and community residents convened by the Camden Coalition and the Food Bank of South Jersey to address the upstream systemic factors that drive food insecurity in Camden City. One major focus of the Food Security Collective is “co-location:” bringing multiple services and resources together at trusted, community-based locations or gathering spots. This pilot is something of a proof-of-concept, installing Camden Coalition CHWs to provide social needs screening, resource referrals, and navigation support at multiple high-traffic locations, and triaging of those with more complex needs into our care management programs.

Nyssa Entrekin, Associate Director of Healthy Food Access at The Food Trust, helped spearhead the pilot. “We see our corner stores as health hubs,” she says. “Any way we can leverage resources that already exist is a success.”

“At Cathedral Kitchen in particular, a lot of people we meet don’t have phones,” says Melissa Zambrano, one of the Camden Coalition CHWs. “So part of what we’re doing is letting them know we’re here, we exist, other organizations exist. There’s help out there.”

On a Tuesday in June, Camden Coalition CHWs joined Food Trust nutrition educators at a small table just inside the entrance to Riverfront Supermarket, a bodega that serves the over 200 residents of the Riverview Towers apartment complex in Camden City. Nurses from the Camden County Department of Health were there as well, providing blood pressure checks and COVID vaccines. At the Camden Coalition side of the table, shoppers were able to get connected to care management and were offered a cookbook of healthy recipes and a postcard showing them how to search for local resources on our My Resource Pal website.

“It was very busy! Just one person after the other coming in,” says Melissa. “We had great conversations, but it was our first time at that location and we know we still need to build trust.”

One person that Melissa was able to connect to services was a woman who was moving soon and in need of furniture. “I’m pretty sure that wasn’t something she ever thought she could get help with, but now it’s something that’s taken care of without her having to pull money away from food, electric bills, or any other necessities,” says Marisol.

“At Cathedral Kitchen, a man came up to our table,” says Ashley Serrano, CHW at the Camden Coalition. “We gave him information he didn’t know existed and he started to cry — we were all tearing up.” As this pilot continues, she says she’s “hoping to be able to assist people further, build better relationships, help them feel more confident so they can open up and say ‘I really do need help with this.’”

This pilot is set to end at the end of 2023, but it won’t be the end of our work in community outreach and enrollment. We will also be using data from this pilot to evaluate the impact of co-locating services.

“This partnership is great for everybody,” says our Program Manager Giselle Morales-Schossig. “It’s strengthening our relationship with The Food Trust and our other partners, but most importantly it’s strengthening our relationship with the community.”

More photos from our corner store outreach