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News from Camden

A diamond in the rough: Serving the community through small business

By Catherine DeMuro

In the city of Camden, Tony Diamond’s Farm Market is a rarity.

It sells fresh produce, including its famed exotic fruits, to a community that gained its first real supermarket in almost 40 years only two years ago.

In a city known as a “food desert,” the phase applied to a typically urban community with limited access to affordable and difficulty buying fresh, good-quality food, Tony Diamond’s is truly a special find.

Jackie Parisi is the manager of Tony Diamond’s, located on Mt. Ephraim Avenue. Her passion for her job and her community is evident from her extensive knowledge on every product in the store to the way her face lights up when talking about her customers.

“A lot of the customers are like my family,” Parisi said. “It’s just so nice being here.”

It is clear that Parisi feels a heavy responsibility to the people of Camden and to the community she grew up in, as she has been living in the city since she was 10 years old.

“For the people of Camden, they’re not eating out, this is what they eat,” Parisi said, with a wave over the store. “In this community it’s not always readily available so we do our best to have everything for everyone.”

Parisi does her best to ensure that the food is sold at a reasonable price, which is not always common in the area.

“Everything is as cheap as it can possibly be so that we make our little bit and the community gets to eat,” Parisi said. “We know that more or less all these products aren’t available in most stores in the area.”

It sells fruit, vegetables, dairy items and many other food products and receives shipments of fresh produce to restock every single day and fresh eggs twice per week.

Parisi also said that local bodegas and other small markets regularly purchase produce from Tony Diamond’s to sell to customers at a higher price.

For longtime customer Cheryl Davidson, the farm market is her rock in an otherwise calamitous sea.

“There isn’t much for us around here,” Camden resident Davidson said. “I know that when I come to the food market at least it’s gonna be fresh and good quality products.”

To think all of this began from a boy with a wagon.

Parisi’s father came from a large family who grew a lot of fruits and vegetables.

In the early 1950s, he would take produce from his father’s crop and walk around selling it in the Fairview section of Camden. He would give the earnings to his parents and eventually upgraded to using a horse and wagon.

The personal produce business became stationary in 1968 when the family opened it as a small roadside store on Haddon Ave. where it stood as a stand with some umbrellas.

“We were built from the top down instead of the bottom up,” Parisi said.

Although her father passed away two years ago, Parisi feels that carrying on his legacy and service is an unquestionable duty of hers.

“There’s a dire need for a produce market here and my father always knew that,” she said. “And it’s a little restless sometimes, I mean it is Camden, but we love it here.”

Camden gained its first supermarket in decades only two years ago.

In addition to operating as the largest produce market in the area, Tony Diamond’s also serves the community in other ways, including donating to local churches and volunteer organizations in Camden.

Its largest project – and Parisi’s favorite – is helping to create over 1,200 gift baskets for the Sacred Heart Church to give out around Christmastime. Tony Diamond’s provide all of the fruit and vegetables for the baskets with donations from suppliers.

“It’s just a good thing to be able to help the community,” Parisi said. “And the community helps us … You don’t need security because everybody is watching everybody else, and they appreciate the goodness of it.”

Whether it is giving some leeway to a customer low on cash that week or donating to food kitchens and homeless shelters, Parisi is grateful for any opportunity to give back to the community that has supported her over the years.

“It’s its own reward to give this to the community,” she said. “People come in and they’re just happy and getting to eat like that, and there isn’t much other thanks.”

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Camden Charity Aims To End Childhood Hunger

By Stephen Huff

       One day soon, Feed Our Children NOW! hopes to go out of business. Non profits usually hope to stick around for years to come. But not this charity, founded in 2007 by Lana Posner. She hopes to eliminate the problem of kids not having enough to eat.

        “Our goal is to be put out of business,” Posner said. “The fact that we have children in this country that are hungry is just appalling.”

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Feed Our Children NOW! is run out of founder Lana Posner’s apartment in Camden, New Jersey. Photo by: Stephen Huff

         Posner said her reason for starting Feed Our Children NOW! came from the fact that she moved to Camden to start a different sort of charity.

        “We came down to Camden really to focus on financial literacy for young people, and when I got here, I found out that kids were hungry,” Posner said.

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The room inside Posner’s apartment where a lot of the planning goes on. Photo by: Stephen Huff

The non-profit is based out of Camden and under the umbrella of Creative Moneyworks Inc. which promotes financial literacy. Feed the Children Now! partners with the Vans Warped Tour to collect canned goods from concert-goers at every concert stop and distribute them to needy families.

        According to Posner, she initially was just going to do one event to collect food for the kids in Camden a few years ago. However, she said, the response to the event was substantial, as people donated over 2,000 pounds of food.

     “So from that point on, it dictated itself to us,” Posner said. “That that also came at the same time the economy collapsed, 2007, 2008.  So the need for food all over the country grew.”

      In terms of growth, Posner said the charity went to two concerts in 2007, increased to four in 2008, and then started going on each stop of the whole Warped Tour shortly afterwards.

       The partnership with Vans Warped Tour has been huge, as the charity “collected and donated over 1,581,000 million pounds of food,”  according to Feed Our Children NOW!’s website. Vans Warped Tour has helped in that people who bring in three cans or $5 receive “an Express Entry Wristband,” according to the charity’s website.

        Franny Lopez, the tour manager for Feed Our Children NOW!, said his responsibilities involve things such as keeping track of the food and money collected, as well as telling local charities where they can pick up the food.

        According to Lopez, being on the tour itself has made for some unique stories.

        “The experiences you make out there are insane and are things you never want to forget,” Lopez said.

        Lopez said that one such story took place in Minneapolis this year. Lopez said he was alone at the area by himself after a morning rush, when suddenly a “crazy gust of wind,” sent the group’s tents flying.

        “I was left at the table with a table cover and a bunch of cans,” Lopez said.

        Steph Kinney, the charity coordinator and an event manager for Feed Our Children NOW!, first heard of the organization when she went to Warped Tour in 2007.

        “I can’t remember if I brought cans that day or donated, I might have donated the $5 because I don’t remember bringing cans,” Kinney said.  “But I do remember going and I do remember seeing the tent as I walked in and it was kind of like, it wasn’t anything like what we have today.”

        Kinney, who started volunteering for the group in 2012, said that she handles a lot of the preparatory work for Warped Tour.

        “The charity coordination, what I do with that is that is I’m responsible for finding a charity in the 43 cities that Vans Warped Tour goes to and I have, since we’ve grown a bit, I have girls that work under me and they also are in charge of that as well,” Kinney said.

        In addition to helping out with Warped Tour, Kinney said that she was one of the people responsible for helping the charity to try and break the Guinness Book of World Records record for the most food donated in a single day.

        According to Kinney, the group has attempted this feat twice, with the first attempt being in Atlanta in 2014 and the second attempt being in Camden in 2015. 

        Although the group didn’t manage to break the record, Kinney said she was still proud of the work they did.

        “Our main thing was to just feed as many people as we could that day, which we definitely did,” Kinney said. “That was our largest, I think our largest in a single day, which I think we got around 40,000 pounds of food, which unfortunately that’s not a world record breaker but it was a whole lot of food.”

       

        

Residents Saddened By Gun Violence

 

By Matt Kass

It is no secret that Camden, NJ is plagued by gun violence. By May 2016, the homicide rate in the city had already reached 20 deaths – the majority of them committed with guns.

Commuters interviewed recently at the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden often cited poverty as the root cause of the city’s gun violence.

Robin Garland is 54 and lives in nearby Winslow, NJ. She said the crime situation is out of control.

“I really believe that they need to come down harder,” she said, “because innocent people are getting killed, children. They need to give em more of a tough penalty when they go to jail for it too.”

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A cross sits in a vacant lot with the phrase “Heal Camden” on the front. Photo by: Matt Kass

She thinks that in order to curb the amount of gun violence, you need to curb the number of guns flowing into Camden. In short, she said, just find ways to make sure that guns are not easily bought and sold.

Daniel Nieves is 26 and lives in Camden. In his opinion, there’s one big reason for the increase in violence – poverty.

“It’s probably the economy,” he said, “because people don’t have jobs. There’s not opportunities. Some people take the choice, they go sell drugs and rob people, and they don’t have nothing else to do, you know?”

Nieves also suggested opening facilities to help people find employment and get opportunities to escape the city and find a job elsewhere.

Rem and Charbel Wehbe are a pair of 24-year-olds who were originally from Lebanon, now living in the area. They said Camden’s violent reputation preceded it – even in Lebanon.

“I think it’s a high risk, high percentage” of gun violence in Camden, said Charbel Wehbe. “But I haven’t seen yet, anyone carrying a gun.”

“We only hear stories,” added Rem Wehbe “but we haven’t seen yet, anything that is that scary. But people warn us enough.”

When asked what they thought was the main factor for the high rate of gun violence, they both said poverty was the driving force. They were also both in agreement that job opportunities and free meals were the best shot for many residents in the city to avoid becoming victims of violence.

Salvatore Gotti is a 21-year old who lives in South Philly. He says gun violence in the city isn’t a new problem.

“It’s getting a little worse,” he said, “but I mean it’s been like this for the past couple four or five years. It just started getting bad now.”

Gotti also said some of the youngest residents in town are growing up with the constant presence of gun violence, which is leading them towards crime. And he says that unless they can get guns off the streets, eliminating gun violence will be almost impossible.

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A sign outside the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden, where most of the interviews were collected. Photo by: Matt Kass

Jada Simmons is an 18-year-old who lives in Camden. She is saddened by what she sees going on in her city.

“I think it’s sad,” she said, “It’s very sad, you can’t even come out the house without thinking anything’s gonna happen to you. You can’t live life how you wanna live because of the gangs and all this other stuff, like over nonsense.”

While she feels that cooperation would help to solve this problem, she also said that sometimes people just don’t want to work together, and as a result, meaningful social change doesn’t happen.

Samantha Lukens is a 19-year-old from nearby Woodbury, NJ. She was in town visiting her boyfriend, who lives in Camden. Lukens had a theory about why gun violence in the city is so high.

“I think it has a lot to do with them feeling like there’s no hope,” she said. “Like they can’t get out of this city, unless they do what everybody else is doing, which is you know, doing crimes to get money out on the street.”

As for what could be done to fix the situation, Lukens had an answer.

“I think it could be lowered,” she said, “if they tried harder to formulate more programs. Get ‘em out of Camden, that’s what I say. Get ‘em out of their comfort zone a little bit, because this is all they know.”

Federal Grant Will Renovate City Transportation And Infrastructure

By Dylan Maslowski

Revitalizing the city of Camden is always a priority to its government and citizens, and now there is hope to upgrade the city’s transportation system.

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This summer, the city of Camden was awarded $16 million dollars to improve areas between the north of the city as well as downtown. The grant will also fund important repairs to the 7th Street bridge and make improvements to various pedestrian and bicyclist areas at Cooper Poynt park area.  

Announced by U.S. Senators Bob Menendez, Cory Booker and Congressman Donald Norcross in a press statement, this grant allows for much-needed repairs on its infrastructure.

The funding for the TIGER grant comes from Holtec International, Subaru, American Water as well as the Philadelphia 76ers.

Near Campbell’s field, Liberty Property Trust plans to build a multi-use complex on the 3.4 acre site for use for retail and office space in the coming months.

“There is nothing more important to our nation’s economic future than investing in our crumbling transportation infrastructure,” said Sen. Menendez in the official statement regarding the grant.

“This critical federal investment will help move Camden forward, boost the city’s economy, create good-paying jobs and improve the quality of life for residents.”

As a part of the Camden Connections for the Future Project, this funding will help in the construction of various roads throughout the city as well.

“This is such an important grant award at a tremendous time in Camden’s revitalization,” said Camden Mayor Dana Redd.


“These improvements are not only long overdue but will help Camden prepare for not only current development but additional needs moving forward,” Redd also added.

Dr. Edward Williams, director of planning and development for the city could not be reached for comment.

Student Nurses Cross Bridge for a Cause

By Aaron Carney

For commuters, crossing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge can be tricky. But for the participants in the Annual Student Nurses Association Bridge Walk on Oct. 30 however, crossing the bridge was a treat.

Dozens of people gathered at the Rutgers-Camden Campus Center early Sunday morning for breakfast and games as they prepared to make the three-mile trek across the bridge to help raise money for Camden’s Center for Family Services. The CFS is a non-profit organization that handles everything from domestic violence prevention to food donations at local pantries.

Christine Abacan, a senior nursing student at Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden, organized this year’s event and said that it’s always a fun time for a great cause.

“For us it’s just kind of a way to have a presence in the community,” said Abacan, 21. “We’re very grateful that the city of Camden allows us to have this university here, so for us as an organization, our mission is to give back to the community. Being the only student nurses group on campus, we wanted to promote health and wellness and this is kind of like an exercise program. It gets people together to build this community of health.”

The walkers included students, alumni and friends and family of SNA members, all of whom paid $20 to participate. As they arrived at the Rutgers-Camden Campus Center they got a healthy breakfast, raffle tickets for a basket drawing, and the opportunity to play games such as Kan Jam. Each table in the waiting room was decorated with a pumpkin that participants got to take home if they wanted.

Abacan said she tried to schedule the event at a time where it wouldn’t conflict with other fundraising walks.

“October is a very popular month for different walks, so I wanted to schedule it at a time where it would stand alone,” Abacan said. “Once I picked a date and time, I mass emailed the entire school of nursing and posted fliers all over campus, I had faculty members reach out through their email server and we recently opened a Twitter page for the School of Nursing and our PR specialist posted on their as well.”

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(photos and video by Aaron Carney)

Jennifer Hammill, the Associate Vice President of Development and Public Relations at CFS, was one of those making the long walk across the bridge along with other CFS workers. She said that the event was her first time walking the bridge since she was a student at Rutgers-Camden.

Hammill said the SNA has been a consistent and reliable donor every year. That is important, she said, since the center needs as much money as it can get to cover the costs of their many services.

“Our services really run the gamut.We’re focused on helping people of all ages,” Hammill said. “We run the Early Head Start program here in Camden County, and we’re working with the city’s youngest learner to help prepare them for Kindergarten. Our focus is long-term success.”

In a way, the SNA and the CFS have very similar goals. They both are focused on not only improving lives, but also putting people in a position to improve their own situations. All of that was on display at the bridge walk, as those who participated got in their daily exercise for the benefit of others.

“Really what our services are about are improving people’s lives and connecting people with services and supports to make a positive impact on their lives,” Hammill said. “We’re connecting them with opportunities to improve their lives, and the goal is to help them be successful so they want to continue down that road and follow the path to a self-sufficient future.”

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