Rita, Volunteer at Mercy Housing Lakefront

Longtime St. Catherine’s Volunteer Cooks Up Results

Classes were provided at St. Catherine Residence in 2019 through Mercy Housing’s Food Insecurity Program and those graduates have gotten serious about eating right.

Rita Larsen, longtime St. Catherine’s volunteer and supporter, has dedicated her career to helping others to improve their health, especially through proper nutrition. She is a Registered Dietitian, with previous experience teaching nutrition at health clubs and working with Head Start to plan healthy meals for students.

Residents at St. CatherineThe residents of St. Catherine Residence have often benefited from Rita’s expertise. A member of the Friends of St. Catherine’s, Rita has taught workshops and classes on nutrition, healthy lifestyles, and proper sanitation practices, among other topics.

In 2019, Rita led three, month-long workshops on cooking and nutrition at St. Catherine’s. The classes were part of a national Mercy Housing initiative, funded by the Walmart Foundation, to decrease food insecurity and provide nutrition education to residents. These classes, Rita says, fit naturally into her long-time support of St. Catherine’s.

“Really, when you get attached to women like this, then you also perceive their needs and you also want to be able to help them,” she explains.

The Friends of St. Catherine’s, founded over 50 years ago, was originally created to support St. Catherine’s financially and through volunteer involvement to ensure the community’s longevity. Starting in 2010, the Friends launched a health and wellness initiative at St. Catherine’s in partnership with Columbia St. Mary’s hospital. The Friends were able to raise funds to support the program, which continues to this day. “It is the very thing that I feel the very best about: one, fundraising and two, getting the health initiative,” Rita says.

Residents participate in a cooking classIn the classes she teaches, Rita encourages participants to think about their long-term nutritional needs and how important it is to cook at home. “I always say, ‘I don’t want you going down the street to the grocery store and shopping for dinner out of the delicatessen and then not thinking about next week.’” Through the classes she taught in 2019, she was able to engage nearly 30 women at St. Catherine’s, providing them with new knowledge and skills to cook their own healthy meals.

“I really do hope to do more and more and more with food,” Rita says of her plans to continue volunteering at St. Catherine’s. “There’s lots of other things that are possible.”

One of Rita’s dreams is to someday organize community dinners for the women. “That’s my vision of true happiness – being able to provide that.”

Celebrating Success by the Numbers:

29 women at St. Catherine’s participated in cooking and nutrition classes during 2019. All of the women who began a class finished and officially graduated! The average number of meals that participants reported eating at home increased from 3.41 to 4.17 — a 22% improvement. 10% of women who participated in the classes increased the number of meals they prepare at home during the week from between 0 and 2 times per week to 6 or more times per week. There was a 17% improvement in the number of women who reported eating vegetables once per day from the pre- and post-tests. The number of participants who reported being very confident in their ability to cook meals from scratch improved by 11% from the pre- and post-tests.