The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is taking significant steps to address food access disparities in underserved communities through the expansion of its Healthy Corner Store Initiative.
This initiative aims to increase the availability and awareness of nutritious food and beverage options in neighborhood corner stores, with a particular focus on benefiting patrons eligible for SNAP and WIC benefits.
With a total investment of $1.75 million across stores statewide and an additional $250,000 allocated towards stores in Atlantic City, a leading food desert, NJDOH is determined to combat food inequality and improve overall well-being.
The Healthy Corner Store Initiative is spearheaded by the SNAP Education (SNAP-Ed) unit within NJDOH's Division of Family Health Services in collaboration with The Food Trust in New Jersey.
This initiative is a direct response to observed food access disparities in lower-income neighborhoods, where the absence of healthy food choices significantly impacts residents' ability to maintain a balanced diet and contributes to health risks such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
The expansion of the program is expected to benefit approximately 150 stores. It will provide funding for essential resources such as refrigeration and freezers to aid in stocking fresh food items.
Additionally, educational opportunities will be offered to store owners to empower them to provide healthier food options to their customers.
NJDOH is encouraging small stores and bodegas, particularly those serving residents receiving WIC or SNAP benefits, to apply for participation in the program.
Interested stores can email firstname.lastname@example.org, and funding will be awarded on a rolling basis.
First Lady Tammy Murphy emphasized the importance of the initiative, stating, "Ensuring every resident has access to nutritious food is an important part of our ongoing efforts through Nurture NJ to promote the health and well-being of families throughout New Jersey."
Acting Commissioner Kaitlan Baston added, "In the coming year, the New Jersey Department of Health is prepared to designate some 150 stores as Healthy Corner Stores, improving access to healthy foods where they are needed most.
This initiative further advances our commitment to ending health disparities by increasing the availability of nutritious, affordable food in places that historically have been under-resourced."
The Healthy Corner Store Initiative, funded under the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, has three principal objectives:
1. Enhancing healthy food accessibility: The initiative aims to improve access to nutritious foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, by providing corner stores with essential resources like refrigeration and freezers.
2. Empowerment through training and technical assistance: Store owners will receive comprehensive training and technical support to increase the retail availability and profitability of healthier dietary choices.
3. Fostering community partnerships: By strengthening connections between store owners, local agriculturalists, and fresh food suppliers, the initiative seeks to create a statewide network working together to improve food accessibility.
In FY22, SNAP-Ed collaborated with 50 corner stores across the state, serving 127,617 individuals who accessed these stores for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Mark Dinglasan, Director of the New Jersey Office of the Food Security Advocate, commented, "Ensuring food security, especially for patrons eligible for SNAP and WIC benefits, is about more than just providing food. It's also about creating better community resources and decreasing the burden of access to healthy food.
The Healthy Corner Store Initiative can help stores transform into healthy community resources that are more accessible to parents, caregivers, and families. I applaud this initiative, and OFSA stands ready to support NJDOH and the SNAP-Ed unit in this effort."