CHESTER >> After 33 years of providing food to those in need, Chester Eastside Inc. and partners in its latest initiative, Food Matters!, gathered Thursday at Shiloh Baptist Church to launch the new food outreach program.
The program will provide fresh food and nutritional education to city residents whose medical conditions require special dietary needs. Based at Shiloh Baptist, it will run in three six-week cycles throughout the year, educating 15-20 individuals and their families affected by diabetic and cardiac conditions.
“Our dream is to see the city of Chester as a healthy place to live,” said Chester Eastside Executive Director the Rev. Zuline G. Wilkinson, who welcomed representatives from program partners Immaculata University, the Crozer-Keystone Health System, Philabundance, and Fare and Square Supermarket, along with elected officials and religious leaders, to speak on their roles in the multi-discipline initiative.
“At Crozer-Keystone, we have done many programs to help our community live healthier, like our diabetic program and cardiac rehab,” said Gwen Smith, president of Springfield Hospital and vice president of community health for the health system. “One thing in common with those programs is that people need to have the right foods to eat.”
The sporadic presence of a full-service supermarket in the city for decades has made fresh produce and meat difficult to purchase for many city residents, turning instead to canned and processed foods high in sodium and sugar. Patients in Crozer-Keystone’s program to combat widespread hypertension and diabetes often “come back from one class to the next and never get anywhere,” Smith said.
“This is a great thing that’s about to happen,” said Mike Basher, vice president of retail operations at Fare and Square. The non-profit supermarket, which opened in the city’s West End in 2013, has signed on to provide food for the program. Along with its role in Food Matters!, the Philabundance-affiliated store launched a fresh produce giveaway program in 2017, supplying the community with half-a-million pounds of free fruits and vegetables that year. It anticipates supplying over 3 million pounds in 2018.
The food from Fare and Square will be used for cooking demonstrations and nutritional education supervised by Immaculata University Assistant Professor of Nutrition Science Qian Jia.
“It’s hard to change what you’re used to,” said university research assistant Erin Fisher, who a nuitrition educator for the program. “We’ll give easy and affordable alternatives to get into eating healthy.”
“What Food Matters! will do is change the mindsets of individuals who are not aware of how nutrition can taste good,” said Wilkinson. By bringing families of affected individuals into the program, the partner organizations hope that the healthy eating habits will make their way to younger generations in the city.
Along with hypertension and diabetes in adults, childhood obesity is now widespread among city youth and putting them at risk for cardiac and diabetic issues in adulthood. “Most of these diseases are hereditary, so if family members do not eat right younger in life, they will develop them,” said Smith.
The program, underwritten by a grant from the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust, is open to Chester residents ages 18 and above with pre-diabetic, diabetic and cardiac diseases (those taking the blood thinner Coumadin are excluded due to the program’s vegetable-heavy diet with large amounts of the blood-clot inducing Vitamin K).
The first six-week class cycle is expected to start in two weeks. Those interested joining the program may call Chester Eastside, Inc. at 610-872-4812 (callers are asked to leave a voicemail if prompted) for class availability and what forms from a doctor or health clinic are necessary to enroll.