People in poverty often have little choice but to eat nutritionally disastrous foods that are cheap, highly processed, and larded with high-fructose corn syrup and salt. Families become fat and malnourished at the same time.
In America, 31 percent of girls and 32 percent of boys ages 3 to 18 are overweight or obese, according to the Rutgers University Center for State Health Policy.
In Camden, the home of Campbell Soup since 1869, overweight/obese numbers are 40 percent for girls, 39 percent for boys.
And nearly 25 percent of Camden households with children ages 3 to 18 report being food insecure - having too little food to eat, Rutgers figures show. Nationwide, about 15 percent of households are food insecure.
To help young people like India Harris, Fortunato and Campbell are working with five nonprofits:
- The Food Bank of South Jersey, to distribute food in Camden and help the organization teach nutrition and healthy cooking.
- The local YMCA, to implement programs that increase children's physical activity.
- The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, to provide prenatal care and help with baby nutrition.
- The Camden Garden Club, to create community gardens and teach horticulture in schools.
- The Food Trust (of Philadelphia), to help Camden corner stores provide healthier food.
Campbell isn't the only company trying to improve the health of the poor.
"It's now standard practice for obesity and hunger to be part of corporate programs," said Dawn Henry, spokeswoman for the Association of Corporate Contributions Professionals, a nonprofit that teaches corporate executives how to coordinate their philanthropic activities.
Wal-Mart is particularly adept at this, Henry added. It pledged $2 billion in cash and food to hunger-relief agencies between 2010 and 2015.
Such largesse helps low-income Americans and burnishes corporate images at the same time, experts say.
In the last five years, companies have been building social credibility by reaching out to their communities and the nation, said Meg Major, editor of Progressive Grocer, which reports on food issues.
The trend coincides with Michelle Obama's initiative to combat obesity.
As prevalent as hunger-fighting has become in the corporate world, Henry said she had never heard of a job title like Fortunato's.
Camden is Fortunato's world now. Since her arrival at Campbell in November, she often finds herself outside its manicured 40-acre campus and on the streets of the troubled city.
Her strategy is to tie together local nonprofits and help finance and direct their obesity-hunger fight.
"It's about being out and developing trust," said Fortunato, slender and blond, with a resemblance to Geraldine Ferraro during her 1984 run for vice president. "It's grassroots community organizing. To me, a lot of the work is about leadership: To look at the hard social issues to lead the charge."
When Fortunato was growing up in Harrisburg, she helped care for a younger sister who was severely disabled with spina bifida, a birth defect affecting the spinal cord.
"I pushed her in a wheelchair, and people laughed at her, seeing her as a freak of nature," Fortunato recalled. Her sister died last year at 50.
The experience both toughened and sensitized Fortunato, who grew keenly aware of people with differences.
"I remember being a teenager and thinking about making a difference," she said. "The time with my sister gave me wisdom most kids don't get."
Her father worked in sales for an aluminum-window and door company. Her mother was a homemaker. Possessed of a social conscience that he apparently passed on, Fortunato's father helped secure the first scholarship for African Americans at Harrisburg Area Community College.
Fortunato graduated from Duke University with a degree in French and comparative literature.
"I'm a Francophile, with a complete love of the culture," said Fortunato, who spent her sophomore year in France.
Not interested in teaching French, Fortunato followed a more practical path, attending the Widener University School of Law. After graduation, she wanted to work with underserved people.
She cofounded Social Venture Partners Delaware, whose mission is to improve early education in inner-city Wilmington.
Fortunato went on to become president of Operation Warm, an organization that distributes new winter coats to children in 26 states.
Divorced and living in Kennett Square, Fortunato has 26-year-old twin daughters who own a fashion-design business in Manhattan, and a 24-year-old son working in the technology industry in Los Angeles.
Though now an executive who must pledge allegiance to a corporate culture, Fortunato draws on her years as an independent outsider when interacting with community organizations.
"Kim understands the nuances of working with nonprofits," noted Val Traore, chief executive of the Food Bank of South Jersey.
"She's very passionate and works around the clock. I get e-mails from her at 10 o'clock at night. Campbell chose a good leader."
Campbell also chose a savvy course in deciding to help Camden residents, said Lynne Andersson, a professor at Temple University's Fox School of Business and an expert on business ethics.
"This will help them very much with marketing," Andersson said. "It's smart of them. It may be a veneer, but they appear committed."
Obesity expert Adam Drewnowski of the University of Washington applauded Campbell for focusing on battling hunger and childhood obesity in its hometown.
But, he added, he suspects it's not just altruism that motivates the company. "There's self-interest," he said. "I imagine they want to keep their consumers in good health so they can keep eating and buying their products."
At a recent gathering of concerned citizens in Camden's Parkside section, Fortunato held the floor with both grace and straight talk.
"The Campbell Co. is in for the long haul," she said. "We have 1,200 employees who want to get involved in this program."
It's too early to know how well the program is percolating. But Fortunato is nothing but determined:
"Our goal is audacious. And I'm the luckiest woman in the world to be doing this."
Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "Joint Custodian," at www.philly.com/jointcustodian