Camden moves to fight obesity

Posted: May 02, 2012

In an effort to fight childhood obesity and promote healthy living, the Camden City School District will hold its first “Let’s Move Gala” Wednesday evening.

The idea came from Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative to put children on a path to a healthy future, said Sharon Shields, district manager for youth services programs.

“We wanted to do something healthy. ... How could we address the issue of obesity?” Shields said.

The event, free and open to the public, will feature cooking demonstrations and plenty of physical activities including Zumba, line dancing, karate, and aerobics. There will also be samples of healthy foods from Corrine’s and Old San Juan. Shields said Corrine’s (a soul food restaurant on Haddon Avenue) would make a brown rice and vegetable dish.

Forty percent of Camden residents ages 3 to 19 are obese, according to statistics from the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Camden. The rate is even higher for Hispanic children: 44 percent are overweight or obese, compared with 29 percent nationally.

Asked why so many Camden children are obese, Shields and Valeria Galarza, program coordinator for New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Camden, quickly mentioned violence.

“They don’t feel safe. The streets are dangerous,” Shields said. “So they stay in the house an play with their cellphones.”

Galarza responded similarly in an e-mail: “We have Farnham Park in the Parkside neighborhood, which was just renovated last year but not being fully utilized because of the perception that it’s unsafe. We need the schools and community to keep the park busy with activities so [children] can be active while preventing crime and violence in the park.”

Until parents feel safe sending their children to play in city parks, Shields said, people — including speakers at the gala — will talk about what kind of safe exercise can be done in and around the house.

“We are trying to make it interesting” and cater to Camden residents with information such as how to find healthy foods at a food bank, Shields said.

Various groups in the city are working to bring more healthy foods to Camden through gardening and harvesting vegetables or mobile food markets.

However, efforts to get a second major supermarket have not been successful. Grapevine Development has been working with Cooper’s Ferry Partnership for more than a year to get a major chain supermarket as an anchor of the soon-to-be-built Haddon Avenue Transit Village, one of nine Urban Transit Hubs in the state.

The project has been in the works since 2008, when the former Greater Camden Partnership was given a $50,000 grant to come up with a plan to revitalize 15 acres of former industrial space.

The $100 million development, at a former industrial site between Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and the Ferry Avenue PATCO station, calls for 40,000 square feet of office space, about 400 housing units, a 50,000-square-foot grocery, and a 700-space garage.

The Camden Economic Recovery Board gave Cooper’s Ferry a $500,000 grant to fund the design and engineering of the transit village infrastructure. As of Tuesday, a lease has not been signed with a grocery store, said developer Randy Cherkas.

“We’ve been back and forth with five or six supermarkets,” he said.

The “Let’s Move Gala” will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at H.B Wilson Elementary School, 2250 S. Eighth St., Camden.

Contact Claudia Vargas at 267-815-1953 or cvargas@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, “Camden Flow,” on Philly.com

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