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A Commitment to Camden
Corporations throughout the city stepped up to help residents during the pandemic
By Kate Morgan

As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the east coast, and Camden County became the hardest-hit area in South Jersey, the needs of Camden’s residents intensified.

Without missing a beat, the city’s companies and organizations stepped in to help – from corporations like Campbell Soup Company, headquartered in the city for decades, to its newer neighbors.

“Over the past few years, as companies like Subaru and American Water have relocated, built, or expanded into Cam- den, they’ve adopted the city as their home and made commitments to be a part of ‘Camden Rising,’” says Joe Myers, vice president and COO of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership. “They’re a part of the fabric of the community, and prior to the pandemic there was already a unique culture in Camden of private and public collaboration.”

The city’s corporations have always supported its causes and community organizations with time and resources, in addition to dollars, he adds. But the response that was mobilized in the face of a mounting pandemic has been truly special.

“The reality was no one really knew what was going to happen. There was a lot of uncertainty,” Myers says. “But since the beginning of March, all of our companies – The 76ers, Subaru, Campbell Soup, American Water, Cooper University Health Care and Virtua Health System – took part in creating this new norm, doubling down in terms of their involvement, and figuring out how to help the community around them. The private sector was able to mobilize and identify the need. Rather than looking inward at an uncertain economic moment, those CEOs were thinking, ‘What else can we do to help?’”

Food insecurity was immediately a big concern, especially for families whose children were eating breakfast and lunch at their schools. Enter Subaru, which moved its headquarters to Camden in 2018. The company has provided 50 million meals and counting to food banks across the country, including in Camden, since the start of the pandemic through the nonprofit Feeding America. American Water Works, which opened its own head- quarters on the waterfront in 2018, also kicked in $100,000 to Feeding America, on top of $65,000 in donations to local organizations and another $500,000 to a community-based COVID-19 Response Fund. American Water employees helped out by delivering some 1,600 pounds of food to local food banks.

Meanwhile, Campbell Soup jumped into action by providing shelf-stable food and funding to help keep residents fed. The company has donated more than $885,000 in cash and food to organizations serving the Camden area since the start of the pandemic. Local beneficiaries include the Food Bank of South Jersey, Philabundance, the Community Foun- dation of South Jersey, Cathedral Kitchen, Catholic Partnership Schools, the Center for Family Services and the Salvation Army Kroc Center.

“Now more than ever, our community partners are critical resources in our home- towns,” says Kim Fortunato, vice president of community affairs and president of the Campbell Soup Foundation. “They are providing our neighbors in need with food and services. We’re grateful for their partnership, and proud to assist them with any emerging needs as a result of the pandemic.”

Beyond that, the Campbell Soup Foundation also awarded Com- munity Impact Grants to 8 local Virtua Health System and Cooper Uni- versity Health Care allowed 3 locations to open offering free Covid-19 testing for residents throughout the city,” Myers says.

Virtua Health President and CEO Dennis W. Pullin says the testing locations will help healthcare workers meet people where they are, instead of adding extra steps to accessing care.

“We must all continue to work together so we may administer the greatest number of tests in the most efficient manner.”

Cooper also quickly established a fund to support frontline healthcare workers, with major contributions from the 76ers.

“There have also been so many things that don’t get reported in the media but are a huge part of giving back to the community,” Myers says.

He points to a collaboration between organizations that operate in Camden’s neighborhoods and serve its residents. Those include $17,500 grants to the After-School All-Stars, Philabundance, the Vetri Community Partnership as well as $20,000 grants each to the Camden Health and Athletic Association, Urban- Promise Ministries, The Trust for Public Land, and Cathedral Kitchen. A $15,000 grant was awarded to the Saint Joseph’s Carpenter Society.

While monetary contributions have helped to keep Camden’s community re- sources up and running, the pandemic has also resulted in new partnerships to meet unprecedented needs.

“A unique collaboration between to face this unprecedented challenge, and this expanded testing site is an important part of that response,” says Pullin. “We commend our care teams for their selfless actions and thank them for their heroic work. Together, we will find our way through this crisis.”

In addition, Cooper opened testing sites for Camden’s law enforcement officers, first responders and medical professionals.

“For many of these dedicated individuals, the nature of their work places them at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19,” says Kevin O’Dowd, co-pres- ident and CEO of Cooper. “To keep these men and women as safe as possible we are proud to launch dedicated testing sites, Campbell Soup, the Camden Education Fund and Townsend Press that raised $400,000 to purchase a laptop for every student across all 6 district high schools. The program made it possible for Camden’s students to begin distance learning almost as soon as it was announced that schools would close in March.

“As educators, we have always known that the digital divide is an equity issue,” says Superintendent Katrina McCombs. “Now, with students at home and schools closed, it is more important than ever. With this generous gift, … all of our high school students are able to continue their learning at home, prepare for critical exams like the SAT, and complete college essays and applications.”

George E. Norcross III, chairman of the Cooper University Health Care Board of Trustees and executive chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew, headed the effort to secure the funding that made the technology purchase possible. While the pandemic meant it had to happen quickly, it was also a long-term investment in the city’s future.

“Camden has made outstanding gains in public education over the last 5 years, and we wanted to make sure let the current Covid-19 crisis did not set the city back,” Norcross says. “With this gift, Camden’s high school students will be equipped not just with technology, but with opportunity. Camden’s graduation and postsecondary attainment rates, like the city itself, will continue to rise.”

While things slowly begin to reopen in Camden and throughout the region, corporate partners are continuing to play a major role in keeping people safe. At the end of May, the Norcross Foundation and the Cooper Foundation began dis- tributing more than 175,000 washable fabric facemasks to residents, beginning with the city’s most at-risk communities.

“Wearing a facemask is a simple way to keep yourself and others healthy when you are out and around others,” says

Anthony J. Mazzarelli, MD, co- president and CEO of Cooper. “As New Jersey begins to slowly open, we are happy to be able to provide masks to those we serve as an easy way to stay healthy.”

As the city and the region weath- ered the storm of Covid-19, the people of Camden have been able to depend on their corporate neighbors for support. “At the end of the day it’s an amazing story, because this is happening in a city that, 10 years ago, was really struggling,” Myers says. “Now, in the face of a global health crisis, Camden is stronger than ever.”

July 2020
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