July 31, 2008

St. Mary’s Wins Nutrition Awards

By Lindsay Tice

LEWISTON - St. Mary's Health Systems has won a pair of national honors for its nutrition program, which includes public gardens, a food pantry and a teaching kitchen.

The American Hospital Association awarded the St. Mary's Nutrition Center of Maine a NOVA award late last week. The Catholic Health Association of the United States presented St. Mary's with its 2008 Achievement Citation in June.

"We're so passionate about this program and all that it does for sustainable agriculture, obesity and nutrition education because it's so important to the overall health of a community," said spokeswoman Jennifer Radel. "It's just such an honor to be recognized for those efforts, because they're so important to us. It's nice to see that other people see their successes as well."

The nutrition center started with Lots to Gardens, a program that teaches people how to grow their own food and provides public garden space. Kirsten Walter was a Bates College student looking for a service learning project when she started Lots to Gardens with one garden at a Lewiston public housing complex in 1999. St. Mary's became her partner in 2000. Lots to Gardens now has 15 gardens, with 65 families growing their own food. Fourteen teenagers are participating in a work program this summer and about 150 children are involved in the gardens during the year.

Walter is now director of the nutrition center, overseeing the gardens as well as the food pantry and the teaching kitchen.

"It's really exciting to see the convergence of these programs," she said.

St. Mary's took over the food pantry from the Good Shepherd Food Bank in 2002. Last year, it served 26,000 people and gave away half- a-million pounds of food.

St. Mary's opened its teaching kitchen a couple of years ago to educate families and children about nutrition and to provide cooking classes.

The nutrition center, including the food bank and the teaching kitchen, is at 208 Bates St. in Lewiston. St. Mary's spends about $300,000 a year to run the center's three programs.

Both the Catholic Health Association and the American Hospital Association lauded the nutrition center for its comprehensive solution to hunger and nutrition problems by giving away food, providing access to fresh, home-grown ingredients and delivering nutrition education.

Originally published by Staff Writer.

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