A Healthy Community is a More Resilient Community

May 12th, 2020 | Viewpoint

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Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and the pandemic has made it clear that the New York State (NYS) community leaders who work every day to build healthier, more resilient communities are among them. People with chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are at greater risk of severe complications from COVID-19, underscoring the importance of increasing everyday access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Since 2015, JSI has provided training and technical assistance to the NYS Department of Health-funded Creating Healthy Schools and Communities (CHSC) initiative. With JSI’s support, 22 CHSC-funded organizations and their partners have been working to increase the resiliency of 245 communities to withstand the worst effects of the pandemic by strengthening food systems, increasing availability of safe outdoor spaces, and promoting wellness policies and practices in schools, worksites, hospitals, and community organizations.

Increasing Access to Healthy Foods during the Pandemic

For the past five years, CHSC-funded organizations have worked closely to help small retailers, bodegas, and food pantries stock and sell healthy and affordable foods.

Before the pandemic, the North Country Healthy Heart Network helped the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity (JCEO) secure funding to install two additional greenhouses equipped with hydroponic systems to grow fresh produce for the Mobile Farmer’s Market. The market has 21 stops in 10 communities and sells to a local distributor that serves local schools, hospitals, and prisons. When stay-at-home orders went into place and food pantry supplies ran low, JCEO redirected its products to stock pantries and emergency food packages for those in need.

This crisis has reaffirmed the critical role of local food retailers and pantries in the larger food system, especially in lower-income communities that have limited access to full-service grocery stores.

Creating Safe Spaces for Physical Activity

Safe access to outdoor space to engage in physical activity and recreation is essential for people’s health and wellbeing. For many of us, the pandemic is the first time we’ve experienced the discomfort associated with being required to stay indoors. Yet, for people who live in communities that don’t have safe places to walk, bike, or enjoy the outdoors, it’s a familiar challenge.

Thanks to NYS CHSC initiative funding, more than 200 communities have expanded bike infrastructure, made streets and sidewalks safer for walking, and increased access to parks. These investments allow people to get out for a midday walk, run, or bike ride, and de-stress. For example, Common Ground Health’s Healthi Kids initiative advocates for expanding access to public spaces by advancing Play Walk, Safe Routes to Parks, and 10-Minute Walk to Park initiatives. Since the outbreak, these routes and parks have become healthy escapes for families and individuals throughout the greater Rochester area.

Keeping Remote Learners Active

Since schools shifted to distance learning, the primary focus is on maintaining academic standards. In many cases this means opportunities for physical activity have fallen by the wayside, yet with children stuck indoors, supporting movement throughout the day has never been more important.

Prior to the pandemic, the Chautauqua Health Network, based in Jamestown, made significant strides in institutionalizing opportunities for physical activity throughout the school day. Though schools are now closed, students continue to participate in the Daily Mile, tracking their progress via an online QR code (or, if they have limited internet access, an activity worksheet). This is helping students stay active and healthy, regardless of whether school is in session.

Efforts that make communities resilient, particularly in times of crisis, are made by dedicated people and organizations that are investing in local food systems, street infrastructure, green spaces, and healthy worksites and schools. To learn more about CHSC efforts throughout NYS, visit its YouTube Channel or read its Years 3 and 4 success stories.

Written by Amelia Fox 

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