Reaching the Community

For nine years, Contina Wright struggled to manage her diabetes. Living on a limited income made things even more challenging. Everything changed when she started the Diabetes Education Program at the Interfaith Food Pantry (IFP) in Morris Plains, where she picks up groceries each month for her family.  

Funded by the Foundation for Morristown Medical Center, the program provides health screenings and teaches participants about their disease and how to better manage it. 

“We learned about insulin, how diabetes affects different body parts and stress and weight management,” says Ms. Wright. “After a diabetes-friendly lunch, they gave us the recipe and an extra bag of groceries to make the meal at home. They gave away portion plates, measuring cups and a pedometer – it all helped me change my eating habits and lose weight. I’m glad the hospital did this for a group of people who otherwise would not have received the education.” 

Now Ms. Wright exercises, drinks more water and eats at regular intervals. She’s down 30 pounds, with improved blood pressure and stabilized blood sugar levels.  

This program is part of a larger Foundation-funded initiative coordinated by the hospital’s Community Health Department to improve the health of economically disadvantaged people at local community sites, including the IFP and the Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center (CSK) in Morristown. Two hospital staffers, Joanne Selitto, RN, nurse educator, and Solangel Patarroyo, health educator, visit both places regularly to provide education, health screenings and administer flu shots.  

Last year, the 7-month Diabetes Education Program targeted 16 IFP clients diagnosed with pre-diabetes or Type II Diabetes. “We cover nutrition, physical activity, foot care, managing stress, medication and the complications of diabetes,” says Ms. Selitto. “We look to the future and put everyone on the right path.” 

The informal atmosphere puts people at ease. “Participants ask a lot of questions,” says Katy Galton, RD, nutrition educator at IFP. “They receive professional guidance and information they can trust. They also talk to each other for support, so they know they’re not alone.” 

Once a month, Ms. Selitto and Ms. Patarroyo also visit the CSK during lunch to provide health screenings and give medical guidance to the guests. 

“If they come to us and ask something specific, we can educate them about diabetes or cardiovascular disease,” says Ms. Patarroyo. “They may have a sore throat, cough or fever. We’ll refer them to our clinic, Internal Medicine Faculty Associates or Zufall Health Center.” So far this year, the team has administered 60 flu vaccines and provided 145 referrals. 

The duo’s works complements that of CSK’s outreach team, led by Tara Ryan-DeDominicis, LCSW: “If a guest expresses a medical condition to me that impacts his or her diet, we’ll prepare food specifically. Our menus are diabetic- and heart-friendly, high in fresh fruits and vegetables."

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