In an effort to fight childhood obesity and promote healthy living, the Camden City School District is hosting its first Let’s Move Gala on Wednesday evening.
The idea came from First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to put children on a path to a healthy future, said Sharon Shields, Camden school district manager for Youth Services Program.
"We wanted to do something healthy ... how could we address issue of obesity," Shields said.
The gala, which is 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 Camden staples Corrine’s and Old San Juan. Having eaten at both places, I know butter is not used lightly in their cuisine, so I was curious what they would offer. Shields said Corrine’s (known for her decadent and delicious soul food on Haddon Avenue) would make a brown rice and vegetable dish.
Forty percent of Camden’s children, 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 in Camden: 44 percent are overweight or obese, compared to 29 percent nationally.
When I asked Shields and Valeria Galarza, program coordinator for New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Camden, why so many Camden kids are obese, it didn’t take long before violence came up.
"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 they can be active while preventing crime and violence in the park."
Until parents feel safe sending their kids to play in city parks, Shields said, some speakers at the gala will talk about what kind of safe exercise could 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. For more than a year, Grapevine Development has been working with Cooper’s Ferry Partnership to get a major supermarket as an anchor of the soon-to-be-built Haddon Avenue Transit Village, one of nine Urban Transit Hubs in the state.
The $100 million development, located 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.
As I mentioned in my December story on the city’s lack of fresh food options, the Camden’s Economic Recovery Board gave Cooper’s Ferry a $500,000 grant to fund the design and engineering of the Haddon Avenue Transit Village infrastructure. But 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 held from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at H.B Wilson Elementary School, 2250 S. Eighth St.