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New York City feeding ministries keep the faith by dropping fatty foods and shaking it up

No more macaroni and cheese, lasagna, potato salad and soda, all of which ooze calories, fat or sugar. Instead, some New York City faith-based organizations are switching to grilled chicken and pineapple fizz at their suppers and soup kitchens now that Cornell University Cooperative Extension-New York City (CUCE-NYC) has trained its first group of "Kitchens of Faith" participants.

For eight weeks, 23 members of 10 feeding ministries -- including Roman Catholic, nondenominational, Baptist, Church of Christ and Pentecostal churches in New York City -- learned about nutrition, how to make healthier food choices and modify recipes for soup kitchens, food pantries, community kitchens and congregations through CUCE-NYC's pilot Kitchens of Faith program.

The first group of program graduates received certificates. Their churches received a plaque identifying their ministry as a Kitchen of Faith as well as a $500 stipend to enhance their feeding ministry during an April 28 ceremony at the New Covenant Church of Christ in Queens.

"This graduation event has attracted the attention of a number of local elected officials, and there is already a waiting list of new churches that want to participate in the next round of training," said Donald Tobias, executive director of CUCE-NYC.

That's because officials are recognizing how important better nutrition is for the health of their constituents, said Evalina C. Irish-Spencer, regional coordinator for CUCE-NYC's Nutrition and Health Program in Manhattan and the Bronx.

"Many members of the congregations in their areas suffer from diabetes, heart disease and hypertension," Irish-Spencer said. "Our training helps members of feeding ministries develop and prepare more nutritious meals and transform their environments with positive health messages."

Using extension's train-the-trainer model, participants will train others at their feeding ministries. "We've already seen transformation in some churches," said Irish-Spencer.

For example, a church in Far Rockaway "planned a Good Friday dinner using healthier choices. Instead of offering three or four kinds of meats and macaroni and cheese filled with high fat, they offered grilled chicken, fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead of soda, they served pineapple juice with seltzer. They have also learned to offer more water," said Irish-Spencer.

Participants also learned "what kinds of activities -- including praise dancing and chair exercises -- meet their congregants' physical activity requirements," she added.

The next round of training will be in the fall. CUCE-NYC will reach out to many more faith-based organizations, including mosques and synagogues. For more information, call (718) 992-2491.

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