When family practice physician Anita Lewis-Sewell was told by her doctor to get a mammogram in 2009, she put it off because of a busy schedule.
But when the advocate for minority health reform found a lump in her breast six months later, the reality hit.
It’s one of those stories: “Do as I say, not as I do,” Dr. Lewis-Sewell said. “Even though I had a family history ... I didn’t think it was going to happen to me.”
Fast-forward to 2013, where the doctor, who returned to her hometown of Toledo from Dayton after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, has joined forces with a food pantry, through her work as a group leader with an outreach program.
The Circle of Friends and the New Light Shiningstar Food Pantry have reached out to community members to educate them about the programs available to minorities dealing with health issues. On Wednesday, members teamed up to spread the word that they exist and there is help, by passing out food and information about the programs, said Imogene Lott, director of the food pantry.
The food pantry distributes boxes of food every third Wednesday, from 2 to 4 p.m. from its location at 1614 Fernwood Ave.
“I think that just the fact that we now have a partnership with Circle of Friends, that if we do more to help each other ... especially by letting people know the pantry is here, then it will help,” Ms. Lott said.
Food and health have always had a connection, and this partnership is no exception, Dr. Lewis-Sewell said.
“We are always looking for ways to connect with the community. Many people [both organizations] serve are the same population that are uninsured, underinsured, unemployed, or underemployed,” Dr. Lewis-Sewell said.
Ms. Lott has run the pantry for 15 years. Most of her donations come from the Toledo Northwestern and Seagate food banks, the rest from other donations and sometimes a little from her own pocket.
The pantry spends about $200 a month on food and an additional $150 to $170 on utilities to run the nonprofit. Recipients receive enough food to sustain their family for at least four days, Ms. Lott said.
Circle of Friends was developed about two years ago by Timothy Jordan, director of undergraduate public health and professor of public health at the University of Toledo, and Amy Thompson, professor of public health at UT.
Funded first with $10,000 from the Northwest Ohio Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and recently fueled by a $25,000 grant from the American Cancer Society, the program’s goal is to help combat the disparities in breast cancer care that black women experience through outreach and grass-roots education programs.
Mr. Jordan said the program works through a “small army of lay health coaches,” black women like Dr. Lewis-Sewell who are trained to work as leaders in small group sessions. They teach black women the risks of breast cancer, nutrition, and about resources where they can go to find help. He said a goal is to expand to include education about other diseases.
According to statistics released in a Lucas County Health Assessment in 2007, the gap between black and white women dying is 34.3 for every 100,000 black women compared with 26.3 for every 100,000 white women.
“There are large, large chasms, and huge gaps in the mortality rates,” Mr. Jordan said. “Black women do worse in almost every category.”
The organization is part of a Minority Health Summit: Health Equity through Community Partnerships being held April 27 and sponsored by the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department.
Dr. Lewis-Sewell, who will be cancer-free two years in June and plans return to work part time at the Community Health Center in Fremont, said Circle of Friends helped in her recovery by allowing her to give back to the African-American community.
“I’m sort of like that Don Quixote character who is always out trying to fix the world,” Dr. Lewis-Sewell said. “The nutrition aspect is a major issue, particularly in these times. The food issue is very real for many people, not just the lower class.”
Contact Roberta Gedert at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6081.