RWJBarnabas Health Launches Wellness on Wheels Tour

RWJBarnabas Health announced the launch of the Wellness on Wheels (WOW) mobile education center that includes a hydroponic greenhouse and cooking school, to help reduce health disparities in vulnerable communities and ultimately help to create health equity. As part of RWJBarnabas Health’s Social Impact and Community Investment (SICI) practice, and a continuation of the system’s efforts to nourish minds, bodies and communities, the WOW mobile unit will provide a unique opportunity to educate families beyond traditional methods to help connect food, behavior and health.

The WOW van was designed to address the SICI pillar of economic instability, reducing food insecurity and increasing health literacy. Through a strategic partnership with EcoMedia and MedPro Wellness, the WOW van will help RWJBarnabas Health tackle these issues as well as the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases within and beyond its service areas. By engaging audiences to choose healthy foods and cooking methods through urban farming techniques, the goal of the WOW tour is to empower individuals to make informed, healthier choices and provide them access to healthier but convenient food options by offering connections to farmers’ markets, food bank sites, pantries and soup kitchens.

“What we eat and earn and where we live, and work are all factors that affect our health and well being,” said Michellene Davis, Esq., Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for RWJBarnabas Health. “For many of us, we take for granted that we can just drive down to the supermarket to pick up some fresh fruit or produce, but we have communities that do not have that easy access. In order to truly improve the health of our patients and the communities in which they live, we must address these challenges and our Wellness on Wheels initiative is a way to do so.”

The inaugural WOW van tour began internally in September and over the course of three weeks, visited each of the RWJBarnabas Health facilities and business offices. Starting in October, the WOW tour is connecting with the community. The 35-foot vehicle, complete with a demonstration hydroponic and earth box greenhouse as well as a full kitchen, is custom-designed to work with schools, senior homes, houses of worship, health care providers and community-based organizations to reach families and communities and emphasize the value of good nutrition. The WOW tour will bring health and wellness education directly to community-based sites in vulnerable communities and food deserts with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods. In addition to providing education, WOW will deliver fresh fruits and vegetables grown from RWJBarnabas Health greenhouses, local gardens and urban farmers directly in the community.

“This vehicle will go through the vulnerable communities that we serve and beyond, but more importantly, this is the kind of commitment and initiative that will enable us to attain our mission to make communities healthier,” said Barry H. Ostrowsky, President and Chief Executive Officer of RWJBarnabas Health. “While we continue to provide high quality clinical services to all, we know that is not enough. We still have our fellow community members who suffer disproportionally from a series of conditions and challenges every day in life. The Wellness on Wheels education center will enable us to talk about, show, distribute and teach our communities the importance of eating healthy food. Through this initiative, we will make a demonstrable impact.”

“The Wellness on Wheels van is a three-dimensional community resource. We are providing information, access and affordability for those who live within the context of social determinants of food insecurity and transportation,” said Barbara Mintz, MS, RD, Senior Vice President for Healthy Living and Community and Employee Engagement. “WOW will help us to reach more families in more community venues, helping to reduce the incidence of food insecurity, promote disease prevention, reverse disease progression and keep people well, especially in our most vulnerable communities.”

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