December 22, 2005
By HILARY WALDMAN, Courant Staff Writer
At a holiday party on Wednesday, Iris Rijos heaped salad on her paper plate, then added a small square of lasagna and a sliver of garlic bread.
What a difference a year made.
Last Christmas, Rijos weighed 359 pounds and, she said this year, probably would have piled on the lasagna, skipped the lettuce and stopped for a hamburger and french fries before she got home.
But on Wednesday, Rijos arrived at the Charter Oak Health Center holiday bash 100 pounds lighter than last year and armed with nutritional knowledge that she says has changed her life.
For the past year, Rijos has participated in a nutrition class at the health center, a public clinic that provides care to some of Hartford's neediest residents. She has learned to control her diabetes by cutting out soda and nibbling on fruit and vegetables instead of chips when she feels hungry.
Nutritionist Lorie Reardon invited Rijos and about two dozen other clients to celebrate the season and their healthy-eating success at a party that featured low-fat entrees along with the usual spread of cookies and cakes that can make the holidays such a dieting minefield.
Like most of her classmates gathered at tables covered with festive red cloths, Rijos had satisfied her craving with a single, small square of yellow cake.
Reed-thin in black slacks and a knit holiday vest, Janis Comstock started taking the nutrition class several years ago when she learned that she was lactose intolerant. Later, when Comstock was diagnosed with cancer, Reardon gave her a blender and taught her to make fruit smoothies, the only thing that went down easily when nothing tasted good.
As part of the program, Reardon solicits donated Crock-Pots, blenders, juicers and pots and pans to encourage her students to use healthier cooking methods. Her community pantry of kitchen items, on the ground floor of the health center on Grand Street, is almost bare and she is seeking donations.
At the party, Melanie Barnes-Davis, who is HIV positive and subsists on government disability payments, said she would like to eat more healthful foods, but food pantries often offer high-carbohydrate items such as white bread, doughnuts and other starchy foods.
"They don't give you veggies, carrots," said Barnes-Davis. "To get green veggies, you have to wait in line in the cold," she said, referring to a local food bank that distributes fresh food in the parking lot of a police substation in Hartford.
Housewares, including small appliances, dishes and other kitchen items, may be dropped off on the ground floor of the Charter Oak Health Center, 21 Grand St., Hartford. For more information, call Lorie Reardon at 860-550-7500, Ext. 6601.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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