HMH awarded $500K USDA grant for nutrition needs in Perth Amboy, Plainfield

Hackensack Meridian Health on Friday said it is the recipient of a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, or GusNIP, grant of $500,000 to make nutritious and healthy foods available to those in need in the communities of Perth Amboy and Plainfield. As part of the program, the grant is matched by another $500,000 from private donors, totaling $1 million earmarked for the Fresh Match Initiative in these communities.

“I am proud Hackensack Meridian Health is leading the way in addressing social determinants, like the ability to afford fresh fruits and vegetables, which play a large role in a person’s health,” Robert Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, said. “The Fresh Match Initiative allows us to treat not just a person’s disease, but the underlying root causes for disease, building healthier communities.”

The Hackensack Meridian Fresh Match Initiative will increase accessibility to fresh produce for recipients of New Jersey’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through the use of the nutrition incentive program in Perth Amboy and Plainfield.

Partnering with five grocery stores in the cities, the GusNIP grant allows SNAP participants $5 extra incentive dollars to purchase specifically fresh fruits and vegetables, matching the dollar amount of produce already purchased. Thanks to additional generosity from the New Jersey State Legislature, HMH is able to increase the incentive to a total of $10.

“Both Perth Amboy and Plainfield have disproportionate rates of obesity and other health factors impacted by food such as diabetes, hypertension and congestive heart failure,” Nicole Harris-Hollingsworth, vice president, social determinants of health, for Hackensack Meridian Health, said. “Fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive. Additional money in the weekly budget earmarked for fruits and vegetables will allow people to include more healthy options in their diet, improving their overall health by addressing one of the core social determinants of a patient’s health.”

The program is increasingly important because, after the pandemic, SNAP households are no longer receiving emergency SNAP benefits. Households who have depended on these maximized SNAP allotments are receiving an estimated $82 less per person in monthly benefits. Coupled with inflation, especially for fresh food, families are left with significantly less purchasing power and decreased access to healthy food.

As part of GusNIP grant requirements, Hackensack Meridian Health was required to guarantee $500,000 in matching funds, doubling the USDA’s $500,000 investment. The funds are being provided by the Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation, thanks to generous donations from the Tepper Foundation and anonymous donors.

“We are so grateful to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for awarding us this significant grant,” Joyce Hendricks, president and chief development officer, Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation, said. “Through Hackensack Meridian Health’s Fresh Match Initiative, and with this tremendous support from the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, we will be able to address the importance of access to healthy food for residents in Plainfield and Perth Amboy.”

Many New Jersey elected congressional officials played a significant role in helping Hackensack Meridian Health secure this grant from the USDA, including U.S. Sen Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th Dist.).

“Congratulations to Hackensack Meridian Health on receiving its first GusNIP grant,” Watson Coleman said. “This grant, administered by the USDA, will allow HMH to continue to address food and nutrition insecurity in our neighborhoods by partnering with grocery stores and matching SNAP dollars, allowing New Jersey families to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Initiatives like this are vitally important to strengthen the health and well-being of our communities.”

The USDA grant program will work in conjunction with $3 million in state grants Hackensack Meridian Health was awarded earlier this year to bring the Fresh Match initiative to SNAP recipients in seven New Jersey counties.

As part of the USDA grant, Fresh Match will be rolling out in five grocery stores within Perth Amboy and Plainfield, and 13 grocery stores statewide, as part of the state grant.

The participating grocery stores include:

  • ShopRite of Watchung;
  • ShopRite of South Plainfield;
  • ShopRite of Perth Amboy;
  • ShopRite of Lodi;
  • ShopRite of Passaic;
  • ShopRite of Hackensack;
  • ShopRite of Shrewsbury;
  • ShopRite of Carteret;
  • ShopRite of Bricktown;
  • ShopRite of Neptune;
  • Supremo of Plainfield;
  • Supremo of Perth Amboy;
  • C-Town of Perth Amboy.