Voorhees-based Virtua Health recently debuted the newest addition to its food access programs: the Eat Well Mobile Grocery Store. This 40-foot store-on-wheels is part of several Virtua initiatives that position food as a form of medicine.
The only mobile grocery store in the tri-state area, it is one of few nationwide with a mission to improve access to healthy food and decrease hunger.
Virtua introduced the colorful vehicle – created from a donated NJ TRANSIT bus – during a socially distant, outdoor event on its Voorhees hospital campus, with N.J. First Lady Tammy Murphy among the speakers.
“Virtua Health has championed food access for several years and is a national leader in reimagining how health systems can reduce food insecurity on the local level,” said Virtua Health President and CEO Dennis W. Pullin, FACHE. “The Mobile Grocery Store means that our neighbors in South Jersey, regardless of what ZIP code they call home or whether they own a car, can have access to the healthy and affordable foods they deserve.”
In fact, an estimated 15% of Camden County residents and 12% of Burlington County residents don’t know where their next meal will come from, according to Feeding America’s 2020 projected food insecurity data – numbers that reflect a rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Working in tandem with its counterpart, Virtua’s Eat Well Mobile Farmers Market, the Eat Well Mobile Grocery Store will begin serving South Jersey residents later this year.
In addition to Tammy Murphy, speakers at the event included Congressman Donald Norcross, NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett, and Virtua leaders and supporters.
The Eat Well Mobile Grocery Store will offer fresh, healthy, and culturally relevant foods at below-market prices to residents of Camden and Burlington counties – particularly food-desert communities that experience higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases.
“The role of a health care organization is not only to care for the sick, but to proactively prevent people from becoming sick in the first place,” Pullin said. “We have an obligation to create communities of wellness, and one of the surest ways to achieve that is to help people eat well – and to provide that service in a meaningful way that is centered on dignity and respect.”
To keep shoppers safe and comfortable during the pandemic, the store will offer three shopping options:
In addition, both shoppers and staff members will wear masks, and the store has hand-sanitizer stations.
The Mobile Grocery Store is the latest among Virtua’s portfolio of food access programs, which are newly branded as Eat Well. Collectively, the Eat Well initiative furthers Virtua’s mission by supporting nutrition as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle and increasing access to fresh produce and staple non-perishable foods.
Eat Well is now incorporated into the full name of Virtua’s Mobile Farmers Market, which launched in 2017. In addition, Virtua operates “Food Farmacies” – which provide free food by prescription – at Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly and the Virtua Health & Wellness Center – Camden.
To learn more about the Mobile Grocery Store or the Eat Well initiative, please visit virtua.org/EatWell or follow @VirtuaEatWell on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. View an extended press release at https://www.virtua.org/news/virtua-health-unveils-mobile-grocery-store.
The Eat Well Mobile Grocery Store is funded by philanthropic donations. Virtua has set a $4 million fundraising goal to cover start-up costs and the program’s first five years of operation. Generous donors have already contributed more than $2.4 million, noted Sarah Fawcett-Lee, CRFE, senior vice president and chief philanthropy officer at Virtua Health.
Major contributors include Virtua Health Foundation Trustee Bob Platzer and his wife Donna (PJW Restaurant Group), the Piperno family (Domenica Foundation), the David A. Tepper Charitable Foundation, Bank of America, and Virtua’s Medical Staff South. John J. Parker Sr., chair of the Virtua Health Foundation, and his wife Veronica, have also made a generous commitment. For more information, including ways to support the Eat Well Mobile Grocery Store, visit GiveToVirtua.org.
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