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Black churches unite to preach support of program to fight diabetes

As leftover Halloween candy beckons from kitchen cupboards and thoughts turn to the most consumptive holiday of all, Thanksgiving, some area churches will preach a sobering message this weekend: Eat healthier, exercise more and monitor your glucose levels.

Participating churches are distributing 500 free diabetes monitoring kits in an effort to control a disease that is particularly devastating in African-American and Hispanic communities.

Several pastors Thursday had their own blood-sugar levels checked, and they pledged to preach about health and diabetes during services this weekend.

Area churches have been involved in combating hypertension, heart disease and HIV/AIDS -- but the new effort is aimed at what some health professionals consider an even more insidious disease, especially among black and Latino populations.

The issue hits close to home for the Rev. Matthew L. Brown, the pastor of Pentecostal Church of God in Christ, who is spearheading the program dubbed "Healthy Holiday Health Initiative."

Diabetes runs in his family and Brown will never forget when, as a boy, he watched his grandmother collapse in her doorway.

"I was traumatized," he said. "Growing up, they said she had a sugar attack."

Now, Brown and other pastors say the disease is common throughout their congregations and too often is not taken seriously enough.

"I'm watching members on dialysis. If one of our members gets a sore on a foot, it's amputation," he said.

The sugar monitors will not cure the illness, but they can help people manage their glucose levels better, especially during the holiday season, when food moderation often gets tossed out the window.

By offering the initiative now, Brown hopes to get people thinking about healthy options for Thanksgiving and Christmas, perhaps substituting roasted chicken for the fried version or Splenda instead of sugar in their baked goods.

People are "making their mental menus now," he said.

The Rev. Sam O. Pulliam, who demonstrated how to do a glucose check, said he will repeat the demonstration from the pulpit at Open Door No. 4 Church on Grider Street. Pastors like Pulliam realize they have captive audiences, perhaps even more so than a doctor with a patient.

"In the African-American church . . . the pastor is still one of the positions in our communities that everyone looks up to. If the pastor endorses it, chances are you can get the congregation to buy into it," said Pulliam.

The Rev. Richard A. Stenhouse, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, also signed on to the initiative.

"One of our tasks is certainly to teach and preach so that you get to heaven," he said. "We just don't want to see you go too soon."

The churches are partnering with the American Diabetes Association, the William-Emslie YMCA, Jefferson Family Medicine Center, Niagara Family Medicine, Greater Buffalo Black Nurses Association and Community Health Initiative, an outreach program based in Nashville, Tenn. that donated the glucose monitors.

The Healthy Holiday Initiative also will offer exercise programs and healthier cooking classes.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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