ELIZABETH NJ — More than 80 adults and 30 children, either former guests of Family Promise’s Union County Program or neighbors in Elizabeth, visited the Community Health Fair, a biannual joint effort by Family Promise, a Summit-based national non-profit which provides services to families experiencing homelessness, and Overlook Family Medicine of the Atlantic Health System.

What started as a partnership to provide community health education to guest families in the program’s emergency shelter has mushroomed into an effort to provide health screenings and education to the community just outside the Family Promise Day Center, located at the First Baptist Church on Union Avenue in Elizabeth.

With the doors slated to open at 11 a.m., the kitchen at the First Baptist Church bustled with activity as volunteers chopped vegetables, arranged whole-wheat-low-sugar banana bread on trays, and prepared lemon-and-lime infused water pitchers. Meanwhile, doctors and staff from Overlook Family Medicine set up the “Healthy Avenues” medical screening bus on the church lawn, and arranged information packets about heart health, maintaining a healthy weight, and diabetes prevention in the church gymnasium. Simultaneously, students from the College of St. Elizabeth Dietetics program prepared free “Better Food Bags,” which were given to the first 100 participants who completed the medical screenings. Kelly Donovan of CSE said “we carefully selected three healthy recipes- chicken, seafood and vegetarian, being mindful of providing a delicious, and easy-to-prepare, low-sodium and diabetes-friendly meal.”

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While the adults chatted with student dieticians about how to modify their eating habits after learning about their risk factors for diabetes and heart conditions from the medical personnel, children learned the importance of good hygiene with “Messy Molly” and made “gassy goo” at a table with Shonda Brooks, president and founder of Need2Read, a Union County non-profit and champion for improving childhood literacy.

With a buffet of fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy snacks available to everyone, the gymnasium at First Baptist Church felt like a health-conscious café, complete with tablecloths and flowers.

“Our mission is to help families achieve sustainable independence,” says Geleen Donovan, executive director the Union County Program. “How can anyone be sustainable or independent if serious health conditions are ignored? This is one way we can help our neighbors find the resources they need to live healthy and vibrant lives.”

The Community Health Fair is a biannual event.

“Our ongoing commitment to the Overlook Family Medicine-FPUC Health Education partnership stems from our earnest desire to be a lasting positive presence in our community,” Dr. Christina Johnson says of Overlook Family Medicine. “Our participation in FPUC’s Wellness program – through regular health education with FPUC families during the year and through our biannual community health fairs – is emblematic of our community spirit.”