Connecting Salem and Penns Grove Residents with the Information they Need

NJHI 2020: Small Communities Forging Hyperlocal Data Collaboratives Salem City CARES

As the Small and Mighty Communities teams for Salem and Penns Grove cities work to address food insecurity, we are asking, “Can an improvement in the existing systems of information exchange lead to a reduction in the percentage of residents estimated as food insecure in these communities?” According to the City Health Dashboards for these communities, 56.3% of Salem City and 30.9% of Penns Grove residents are experiencing food insecurity.

We are asking, “Can an improvement in the existing systems of information exchange help reduce the percentage of residents who are food insecure in our community?”

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 prompted an urgency to share information with the community and identify the needs in each city. Service providers and local governments hurried to share resource information virtually, such as hotline phone numbers, the availability of public assistance programs, virtual workshops and food assistance distribution events. However, the teams witnessed that the information circulated through this limited and remote communication network remained out of the reach of its intended audience.

A continued reliance on electronic information exchange may be one of the many barriers contributing to food insecurity in Salem County in general. In 2019, the Live Healthy Salem County coalition hosted listening sessions with community residents, who stated their primary method for learning about local resources is through flyers in storefront windows and by word-of-mouth.

Our community teams are piloting a printed newsletter that will be mailed monthly to every residential address, one newsletter will focus on Salem City and one on Penns Grove. The newsletters will feature:

  • food retailer and vendor information such as what local spots have healthy meals on their menu and price specials on produce,
  • direct content from neighbors to neighbors to exchange food shopping tips, favorite healthy family recipes, health goals and their desires and input about community health-related issues,
  • a local citizen spotlight,
  • an article written by a local health expert, and
  • food assistance information including food pantry schedules, contact information for SNAP assistance, meal sites and more.

A journalism team consisting of high school and college students and their faculty mentors will perform the journalism activities to produce each monthly publication. Students will receive financial stipends for this internship and résumé-building experience.

Both teams will measure whether the newsletters 1) increase residents’ knowledge of food availability, 2) motivate behavior change to make healthier food purchases, 3) are sustainable through a collaboration with school district and collegiate partners, and 4) are a preferable medium of communication among Salem City and Penns Grove residents.

Salem County’s newspaper, The Sunbeam, ceased publication in 2012, so the project outcomes might demonstrate that a newsletter resource can be an improvement in the Salem and Penns Grove cities’ communication systems that will facilitate better health outcomes. Reach out to us to stay up-to-date on this work and our learnings.

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Cristina Chillem
Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden