Researchers Transform Food Drive Into Diabetes Education Forum

Grocery carts clanked against the rows of metal chairs as more than 200 people rummaged for seats at the Keep Loving Each Other (K.L.E.O.) Community Family Life Center, located at 119 E. Garfield Blvd., for the monthly food drive event.

Over the past few months, the look and feel of the monthly food drive has changed dramatically. Instead of simply gathering their tickets for the food line at the door and waiting around for an hour or more for volunteers to set up food distribution tables, families now participate in an hour-long health and wellness awareness event co-sponsored by the “Improving Diabetes Care and Outcomes on the South Side of Chicago” project led by The University of Chicago investigators Monica Peek, MD, MPH, and Marshall Chin, MD, MPH.

Any one in need of food can attend these free monthly events, said Pastor Torrey Barrett, executive director of the K.L.E.O. Center, a nonprofit organization that provides free community resources such as education, violence prevention and health and wellness program to children and adults in Washington Park.

Before the collaboration with Peek and Chin began, “we had a lot of first timers” at the food drive, Barrett said. Now, people are coming back every month, and the number of people participating in other K.L.E.O. Center programs has increased.

This month, Chef Gale Kerr, a culinary student at Kennedy King College, showed attendees how to make a low-fat and low-carbohydrate peach smoothie and tuna salad with the foods they received from the Chicago Food Depository that day.

Additionally, the program included a special poetry reading encouraging African Americans to take care of themselves by local artist, Selective Words, and a presentation and video from Peek about ways to communicate more effectively at the doctor’s office and answer questions about diabetes.

“There is usually more than one way to treat a problem,” Peek explained.  “The key is working with your doctor to find the treatment that is best for you.”

She urged audience members to discuss their issues with their doctors honestly, review the various treatment options available, and decide with their doctor on the treatment that meets their individual needs.

“If you don’t ask the questions, then the doctor can’t answer them,” said Arlene Pleasant, a South Side native who has been living with diabetes for most of her life who recently completed Peek and Chin’s diabetes education/empowerment class and volunteered to share some of her experience. Through the empowerment course, Pleasant explained, she learned about the importance of not only living a healthier lifestyle but also communicating more openly with her doctors.

“We’re trying to help people manage their diabetes where they are,” Peek said. To do this, Peek and Chin have partnered with a number of organizations on the South Side to address multiple contributors to diabetes disparities.

During her time on stage, Peek gave a short explanation of diabetes and the different types that people develop. She answered questions from the audience such as “How do I know if I have it?” to “Can I get rid of diabetes?”

Finally, the audience walked outside, pushing their grocery carts toward about four tons of fresh food awaiting them.

As Joyce Foster hoisted a bag of food over her shoulder and handed another one to her granddaughter, she explained how much she liked the recipes she learns each month. Last month, she made the pepper steak for her family, and she plans to make the peach smoothie for her grandchildren. While Foster was at the event, she took advantage of the free glucose screening and learned her glucose was high above the normal range. She’ll “go to the doctor and tell him,” she said.

“People really appreciate the new set up (for the food drive) and look forward to coming,” Barrett said. “It’s also empowered people to ask their doctors questions.”

“Improving Diabetes Care and Outcomes on the South Side of Chicago” is supported by the Merck Company Foundation as part of the $10 million-Merck Alliance to Reduce Diabetes Disparities across five U.S. cities, the National Institutes of Health, and the Institute for Translational Medicine.

Story by Tracy Loope and Yasir Malik

Photo by Tracy Loope



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