US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Awards Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) Grant For Its Fresh Match Initiative, Bringing Healthy Fruits and Vegetables To Those In Need Living In New Jersey’s Food Deserts   

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Awards Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) Grant For Its Fresh Match Initiative, Bringing Healthy Fruits and Vegetables To Those In Need Living In New Jersey’s Food Deserts

December 01, 2023

  • Hackensack Meridian Health is the only health system to be awarded a federal USDA GusNIP grant for nutrition needs
  • $1 Million in funding through USDA grant and matching funds from donors allows HMH to expand the Fresh Match program launched with $3 Million NJ State Grant
  • Program is vitally important as extra emergency SNAP benefits expire post-pandemic at the same time as fresh food prices rise due to inflation.

Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health system, is proud to announce it is the recipient of a U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) grant of $500,000 to make nutritious and healthy foods available to those in need in the communities of Perth Amboy and Plainfield, New Jersey. As part of the program, the grant is matched by another $500,000 from private donors, totaling one million dollars 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,” said Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, Chief Executive Officer of Hackensack Meridian Health. “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 (SNAP) through the use of the nutrition incentive program in Perth Amboy and Plainfield, NJ. 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. The goal of the program is to encourage and allow for the purchasing of more healthy foods. The minimum SNAP benefit allocation in New Jersey is $95 per month, per household. Through the administration of this weekly benefit there will be an increase of up to 40% per month over the currently offered minimum state benefit. 

“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,” said Nicole Harris-Hollingsworth, EdD, MCHES, Vice President Social Determinants of Health for Hackensack Meridian Health. “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.

Hackensack Meridian Health is the only health system to receive a GusNIP grant in 2023. The 2018 Farm Bill allows the Secretary to provide funding opportunities to conduct and evaluate projects providing incentives to income-eligible consumers to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables and prescriptions for fresh fruits and vegetables. By bringing together stakeholders from various parts of the food and healthcare systems, GusNIP projects help foster understanding to improve the health and nutrition status of participating households, facilitate growth in underrepresented communities and geographies. Since it was established in 2019, GusNIP has provided more than $270 million in funding to 197 projects throughout the U.S. 

“USDA is delivering on its promise to bolster food and nutrition security for underserved communities,” said USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young. “Investments like this enable people to afford and eat healthy fresh fruits and vegetables so they don’t have to make a choice between healthy eating and cheaper, less nutritious options.”

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," said Joyce P. Hendricks, president and chief development officer, Hackensack Meridian Health Foundation. "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 New Jersey’s U.S. Senator Cory Booker and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. 

“GusNIP is a program that has proven benefits for farmers, local economies, and, as Hackensack Meridian Health has recognized, the health of participants. I am proud that New Jersey families will be able to benefit from GusNIP through Hackensack Meridian Health’s Fresh Match Initiative,” said Senator Booker. “With millions of Americans struggling to afford healthy foods, I am committed to fighting to expand funding for this vital program.”

"Congratulations to Hackensack Meridian Health on receiving its first GusNIP grant," said Congresswoman Watson Coleman. "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.

“My community and others throughout New Jersey are NJEDA-designated food deserts, with limited access to fresh fruit and vegetables,” said New Jersey Assemblywoman Linda Carter. “The Fresh Match program will make a difference in these communities, showing the power of when government, healthcare and businesses work together to build healthier communities.”

“It’s about dignity, health and community,” said Plainfield Mayor, Adrian Mapp.  “This initiative is a testament to our belief that a healthy diet should be a right, not a privilege.”   

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
We use cookies to improve your experience. Please read our Privacy Policy or click Accept.
X