TOLEDO (WTOL) - A local health group has expanded a program to help folks eat better and get healthier.

“I was shocked when I found out. I found out about a year ago that I had turned the corner into being a diabetic,” said Dawn Pasquali, a retired registered nurse.

Pasquali said that her background in health care made her embarrassed when she found out she had diabetes. Her doctor recommended Mercy Health’s Starting Fresh program.

“We’re really hoping to have a significant impact. Instead of just providing people with food, we’re providing them with the education they need to really make change in their lives,” said Samuel Adams, the coordinator of the Starting Fresh Program.

It’s a series of six weekly classes, followed by monthly group support. Patients are educated about how what they eat affects their diabetes and how they can change their habits. They get recipes and a bag of fresh fruit and vegetables to take home every week.

Pasquali said she’s lost 40 pounds, her numbers are normal and she feels great.

“I can walk better. I just do everything better now which is nice for being retired,” she said.

Adita Miller has also had success with the program. She found out she was pre-diabetic and since taking the course, she’s kept the disease at bay.

“I feel great. I’m feeling good. I’ve lost five pounds. It’s slow steps. It may not mean a lot to many, but it means a great deal to me,” Miller said.

Starting Fresh has expanded, offering a general nutritional program, not just for folks with diabetes. The expansion will help folks learn how to shop for healthy foods, without breaking the bank.

“...how to read unit pricing on labels. You may see, ‘Oh, this bag of cheese is less,’ but you’re actually paying more per pound because of the way it’s priced,” Adams said.

To learn more about both of these free programs, click here.

Starting Fresh has also branched out to help kids, offering a program called Activity Academy at the Wayman Palmer YMCA. The program educates kids and provides them with healthy snacks.

“We are trying to teach kids the importance of physical fitness and healthy eating habits. We want to incorporate it while they’re young so when they get older it’s not such a hard task,” said Renice Adams, practice manager for the Pediatric Department at Mercy Health.

The program also includes a push to get the kids interested in reading, in preparation for the third grade reading exam.