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How Camden City School District is persevering through the pandemic to provide nutrition education to students

The team is using videos, social media and more to make sure students and their families receive food resources during COVID-19.
Photographs courtesy of Olivia Spratt

During normal times, students at Camden City School District in Camden, N.J., are able to learn about healthy food through the nutrition team’s daily efforts in the cafeteria. With schools shut down due to the pandemic, however, the district has switched gears to bring nutrition education and fresh produce to students’ homes, an vital mission given the district’s location in a food desert. 

“We don't have many stores where families could essentially go to buy a lot of fresh produce items,” says Senior Manager of Nutrition Arlethia Brown. 

The district began providing curbside meal service when COVID-19 hit in the spring and has since pivoted to providing weekly fresh produce deliveries to students’ homes through the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and other vendors. Knowing that this may be the first time using certain types of produce for many families, the district is also working to create resources that teach about nutrition while also ensuring families can make the most out of the produce they’re receiving. 

Bringing it home

The produce bags delivered to students’ homes contain pamphlets with facts and recipe ideas related to what’s being sent home. The nutrition team has also shared tips and tricks for what to do with the produce on social media. 

“We've just been sharing like the pictures of the items and little tidbits on what to do with [them],” says Brown. 

Students also receive nutrition education videos through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program in partnership with nonprofit organization FoodCorps and the Jersey Fresh Farm-to-School Program. The videos typically showcase quick recipe demos with whatever local produce is being highlighted that month and also show ways to best use and preserve fresh produce. 

A simple set-up 

FoodCorps member Olivia Spratt is one of the videos’ creators, and she’s also going to be working directly with Camden City Schools early next year to shoot additional videos for the families in the district. 

Spratt’s camera set-up is simple but effective: Using just her phone, a tripod and a light, she shoots most of her videos in her kitchen and sometimes, her parents’ garden. 

Olivia Spratt foodcorps

Making videos has become an easy way to provide resources for New Jersey students, she says, and recommends that districts looking into starting their own videos do some research on what topics may be most helpful for their intended audience. 

“[Try] to find topics that are specifically related to that community and their needs and what they might benefit from,” she says. “There just aren't really any negatives to making videos and supplemental materials, especially because everything is virtual right now, and I think these sorts of materials are able to help a wider range of people than ever before.

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