In recent months, people that suffer from diabetes and that have visited the St. Francis Client Choice Food Pantry in Scranton have been eating better and feeling better. And if all goes according to plan, the healthy trend should continue for years to come.

Last fall, the CEO Weinberg Regional Food Bank began a nine-month Diabetes Wellness Program at the Pantry. The program assisted clients by initially offering hemoglobin A1c screenings (HbA1c) to those with pre-existing diabetic conditions.

These screenings helped CEO nutrition educators determine the baseline of the clients’ blood/sugar levels. The program then helped such clients with their special dietary needs by providing boxes of healthy foods, twice each month, and by monitoring improvements in their health.

Funded by an AllOne Foundation grant, the program served 50 clients throughout four counties and St. Francis was one of five food pantries served.

“We began in September and determined who would be in the program,” says Mary Kay D’Elia, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with CEO.

“In October, they started picking up their boxes of healthy foods. Each box featured a recipe, focused on the foods provided that month, and a pantry staple, and condiment to be utilized in that recipe.

"The monthly box also contained handouts about nutrition, food safety, and information on diabetes self-management. And in addition to the monthly box of non-perishables, clients also received fresh produce, milk, eggs, and frozen meat."

In addition to improving clients’ health, D’Elia says she hoped that those participating in the program would find it to be empowering.

“With diabetes, it’s always better to teach people to learn to cook at home rather than to eat at fast-food restaurants,” she says.  “That will lower their blood sugar and keep them in control.”

Though the program ended on June 30, D’Elia says that in many ways, it will continue.

“We provided exit counseling,” she says. “We wanted to summarize for the clients all of the lessons that they’ve learned throughout the program. Now, we’re going to turn our mission in another direction and start educating the clients on how to continue making food choices similar to what was in their boxes.

"And we have to educate our food bank staff to order such foods, so that they’ll be on the shelves at the pantries.”

D’Elia says that should more grant funding become available, the food box component of the program may return.

Meanwhile, she says diabetic and dietary specialist from CEO will continue to visit St. Francis a few times a year in order to help the clients maintain the good habits they’ve learned. Ironically, the St. Francis Client Choice Food Panty had already recently established a Healthy Foods Section as the result of an Eagle Scout project spearheaded by Brandon Kelleher, a member of Boy Scout Troop 160, Clarks Summit.

Thus, D’Elia feels even more confident that those with diabetes will continue to be properly served at St. Francis. The program, she says, had positive results.

“We were able to measure if we made a difference,” says D’Elia. “And I was very, very pleased.”

Monsignor Joseph P. Kelly, director of St. Francis Kitchen, says there are currently 14 clients at St. Francis being served by the program and there are 32 on its waiting list. He adds  that he appreciates the good work that CEO brought to the Food Pantry and that it remains committed to providing healthy foods to all, especially those with special dietary needs.

Food donations needed the most are low sodium items, light syrup, vegetables and fruit. 

“Having this program at the Food Pantry for the past nine months has been a blessing and a gift to St. Francis and to those that we serve,” he says. “We plan on continuing to work with CEO and others in the community to insure that such healthy foods remain on our shelves, and we are pleased that as a result of this program, so many of our clients are eating better and feeling better.”