WITS Joins the Campbell’s Healthy Communities Collective in Camden

by Ellen Emerson, Chef Coordinator

In the spring, WITS joined the Healthy Communities collective in Camden, NJ, an initiative sponsored by Campbell Soup Foundation to address childhood obesity and hunger in their hometown communities. Our WITS team is working as part of a collective impact model at KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, alongside FoodCorps leading gardening efforts, the Food Bank of South Jersey teaching Cooking Matters and other programs, and the Food Trust promoting HYPE (healthy you, positive energy) teen engagement and other programs. We are collaborating to connect these programs to the cafeteria, and vice versa.

Our part-time chef, Brian Ricci, a seasoned chef who has worked in top Philadelphia restaurants, joined our team in late September. He’s based in the Aramark-led cafeteria kitchen at KIPP in Camden, busy spreading the WITS mission. Brian works side by side with the cafeteria staff to help serve more than 900 lunches daily. “I am a shiny new object, and have said to the school staff, ‘use me how you can to make yourselves and your school better’. We all have the same mission to do good – to encourage everyone to be healthy.” Brian understands the importance of kids eating well – he has two children of his own, and says, “half the battle is familiarizing them with fresh food – exposing them over and over again to new ingredients.”

WITS joined the other partners in leading a professional development session for teachers at the KIPP campus, telling them about the various programs the Collective is bringing to the campus, from tastings to nutrition classes to a focus on the menu. In addition we’ve regularly joined students for lunch and have had a lot of fun sharing stories and jokes. What do you call a fake noodle? An impasta!

WITS has teamed with FoodCorps, the Food Bank and Food Trust on a series of tastings, from a recent corn salsa to an upcoming spiced apple crunch, with lots more tempting bites in planning! “My goal is to show the school how easy it is to eat healthy – both at school, and at home,” said Chef Brian. “And they are so excited to have us onboard to make wellness a reality.”