Students volunteering with Halls That Inspire along with NJCDC spruce up Spruce St. with a mural in Paterson.
One of my many New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 was to promote and prioritize the health and wellness of Paterson residents. And so I announced my Mayor’s Wellness Campaign to achieve the aforementioned objective to get residents to be more active and health conscious.
On Jan. 24, we launched our “movement” with a “wellness walk” from City Hall to the Great Falls. More than 200 people participated including students from nearby School 2. We followed up with another wellness walk in February and had another one scheduled for late March.
We also engaged our employees to encourage wellness in the workplace. In fact, some of our staff members seized the initiative and hosted aerobic exercise events at City Hall every other day. Moreover, residents volunteered their time to offer free fitness classes to the public.
We were making so many strides with our commitment to improve the health and wellness of our community that the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute named Paterson a “Healthy Town to Watch” in the state. Paterson was literally on the move and then the pandemic happened.
As I have stated in a previous piece, COVID-19 has been unfair and unforgiving to communities of color. The virus preys upon those who already suffer disproportionately from systemic inequities such as racism, poverty, and chronic health conditions.
Sadly, there are many people in Paterson with co-morbidities. Diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease are real threats and put our residents at risk. A vast majority of the Paterson residents we have lost as a consequence of COVID-19 possessed underlying health ailments.
The pandemic compelled us to redefine and repurpose the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign in Paterson. Our first focus was to address food insecurity and to provide support for our senior citizens. We worked with supermarkets to create exclusive shopping hours for our older adults and for any seniors that were reluctant to leave their homes, we established a program where volunteers could deliver groceries to our seniors. Furthermore, we partnered with the United Way and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey in April to provide free meals to 1,500 senior citizens. That number is now up to 3,000 senior citizens who are being served weekly.
We also created a food insecurity index where we analyze census tracks to help us make policy decisions relative to increasing access to fresh produce for our residents through the establishment of community gardens and encourage Paterson residents to create pop-up farm stands. In fact, we just cut the ribbon this week on a greenhouse and farm in an area with a high concentration of poverty.
We worked with our county partners to shelter our homeless in hotels and reached out to the CDC Foundation to bring medical personnel to monitor the homeless. We are also collaborating with our state partners to provide rapid testing to the homeless.
Although we were precluded from holding in-person exercise events, we still hosted virtual sessions that we dubbed “Workout Wednesdays.” And throughout the crisis, our Division of Health continued to offer health screenings and provide immunizations.
Prior to the pandemic, improving our parks was a priority and now our commitment takes on added significance because of the new set of circumstances. We made a million dollar renovation to Buckley Field last year and just remodeled the basketball court on the site this year. Moreover, we cut the ribbon on a million dollar renovation of Brandes Field and we are investing grant funding to improve several more parks including Bear Trap Park, Lou Costello Park, and Eastside Park. We are also making progress on restoring Hinchliffe Stadium.
We will emerge more resilient from this grueling test of fortitude and focus. We will double down on addressing chronic disease prevention and management. If there is any lesson to be learned from this experience it is that better health leaves people less susceptible to severe illness.
This has been a highly stressful situation and the mental and physical health of our residents must be addressed post-pandemic. And although the program model of the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign has been turned on its head, we will continue to do our level best to protect the most vulnerable cohorts of our population.
After we defeat this virus, we will re-start our wellness walks and aerobic exercise sessions especially for residents who gained the proverbial “quarantine fifteen.” However, our goal going forward is not for people to just lose weight but for them to be aware of the health benefits of physical activity. Paterson was put on pause but will be on the move once again.
Andre Sayegh is mayor of Paterson.
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