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Mercer County hospital forms partnership to bring healthy food choices to Trenton residents

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This summer the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital of Hamilton and its community partners launched the Farm to Family program in an attempt to combat issues of food access and obesity in Mercer County.

The program began the second week of July and continues to late October. The hospital partnered with Snipes Farm to provide fresh produce for families and worked with The Maker’s Place to find participants while the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Trenton served as the food pickup location for families.

Based on the community health needs assessment performed by all Mercer County hospitals, health departments and about 60 social services agencies, food access and obesity were predominant health concerns said the hospital’s Vice President of wellness, Diane Grillo.

“And they almost seem as if food insecurity and access and obesity were at two different ends of the spectrum, but in reality, all the research has shown that they’re very much connected,” said Grillo.

She explained that areas that lack access to healthy food have other high calorie food options which could lead to obesity.

Tedford Taylor, director of Pastoral Care for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital of Hamilton, explained a goal of the program is to “champion public policy” to ensure that all areas afflicted by food insecurity and obesity statewide get their needs met.

Families applied for spots in the program and, once admitted, were given an assessment about their current lifestyle choices and what they hope to get from the program.

“They were asking for it to help the family eat healthier, learn how to eat healthier, to inform them of healthy living and eating and how to shop right for better food choices,” said Lauren Stabinksy, the director of Occupational and Community Health for the hospital.

The program aims to go beyond free food. “If we provide them with the food, we also wanted to provide them with education to help improve their lifestyle choices,” said Stabinsky.

Along with fresh produce, for the next 15 weeks they will receive healthy eating tips and recipes and are introduced to vegetables they’ve never used, or even heard of. Teaching families how to prepare food they’ve never had makes them “more likely to use it and add it into their daily or weekly intake.”

As an extra incentive for families to return each week, staff from the hospital raised $1,000 in gifts cards for the families. “If you come consistently for those four weeks and pick up your food and get the education component, we give you a gift card for $25,” Grillo said.

Despite the perks of programs some families faced barriers that kept them from continuing. Taylor explained that transportation was one of a few hurdles for families.

“Many of them have a lot of small kids and it’s interesting to see young moms carting their family trying to transport them from their neighborhood home to the church,” Taylor said. Childcare, language barriers and how to get the food home have also proved to be issues for some families.

Approaching the halfway point of the program, Grillo and Taylor have already begun budget talks to continue the program. “We want to see what can we do for these communities to address the food insecurity and obesity crisis that goes year long,” Grillo said. “We will continue this program.”

India Duke can be reached at

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