West Essex YMCA leads charge for a healthier West Orange

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — A community coalition is using a $10,000 grant from Partners for Health Foundation to run a community garden and improve the town’s walkability, according to a press release.

“We’ve launched efforts that encourage families to eat healthier and would allow them to safely walk from one end of town to the other,” West Essex YMCA Executive Director Helen Flores said in the release.

The West Essex YMCA secured a New Jersey Healthy Communities Network grant on behalf of the West Orange Wellness Web, a coalition that includes representatives from the town government, the school district and Saint Barnabas Medical Center, as well as residents.

Already, 18 families who previously participated in the YMCA’s La Vida Deliciosa, a culturally appropriate nutrition and physical activity education program in the low-income Hispanic community, are tending plots at the community garden at Edison Middle School. Six of 24 boxes are for use by the schools.

“Families are embracing the community garden, growing peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, beans,” Flores said. “They’re very excited to have access to the ground and grow their own food.”

The West Orange Wellness Web is developing an audit of the town’s roads and paths to map routes that are walkable. “Residents are telling us how unsafe roads are for walking and biking. We want to give people access to safe routes,” Flores said. WOWW will also petition government bodies for needed improvements, she said.

New Jersey Healthy Communities Network in 2016 awarded $860,000 to West Essex YMCA and 42 other organizations to support environmental and policy change initiatives promoting healthy eating and active living. The East Orange YMCA and the Sussex County Y also received grants. Coordinated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NJHCN is a collaboration of funders throughout the state who support efforts to develop healthy environments for people to live, work, learn and play.

As a branch of the Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges, the West Essex Y is committed to tackling obesity and other societal problems.

“We are grateful to Partners for Health Foundation for the funding, and honored to be part of an important movement, creating a foundation upon which people can embark on healthy lifestyles, no matter their financial circumstance,” Metro YMCA President and CEO Richard K. Gorab said in the release.

WOWW hopes to secure a second year of funding to expand its efforts. The group plans to reach out to senior citizens to get them involved in the community gardens.