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Payson Center teams up with local restaurants to raise cancer awareness, funds

For years, philanthropic local residents have been Pedaling for Payson, raising money for Concord Hospital’s Payson Center for Cancer Care by biking 75 miles.

Now, there’s a much less strenuous way to show support: dining.

Five local restaurants have joined the center in a partnership designed to raise awareness about nutrition and cancer, and raise a few dollars along the way.

A portion of proceeds from the sale of dietitian-endorsed “Anticancer” menu items will support the center’s Anticancer Lifestyle Program. The program brings together cancer patients and survivors to learn nutrition, stress management and lifestyle skills shown to decrease the occurrence of cancer.

Center officials are talking with more restaurants about joining in the coming months, said Director Nancy Kane.

The Anticancer program charges a fee for patients, but that doesn’t cover the costs of faculty time and curriculum materials. The support from the restaurants will go toward closing the gap, Kane said.

“Our goal was always to make this a self-supporting program, and as we brainstormed ways to think about ways to raise money, we thought, there are also a lot of messages in the program. What do we think about in the course? Well, we think a lot about food,” she said.

The center’s philanthropy department approached restaurants about a proposed nutrition and cancer awareness campaign that can also function as a fundraiser. Each restaurant determines its own plan for donating to the program, some giving a portion of the price of each Anticancer-labeled meal they sell, others donating the proceeds from one day a month, or other arrangements, she said.

All of the menu items that sport the Anticancer seal have been vetted by Megan Ryder, the program’s dietitian.

The general guidelines remind the chefs of vegetables, grains, spices and herbs that have been shown to reduce cancer risks, as well as the benefits of organically sourced meat and poultry.

“Most of the chefs get it right away,” Kane said.

Rick Dennison, chef and owner of Angelina’s Ristorante Italiano, said he didn’t hesitate to get involved.

“I thought it was a perfect idea for a way to get exposure for that program,” he said. “I’ve known a lot of customers that have had to deal with cancer, and there are people in my own personal life, too. I think it’s part of everyone’s life, so if you can get involved in even a small way, you want to.”

Dennison used Ryder’s recommendations, and the physician-written Anticancer book that inspired the program, to craft a new dish prominently featuring extra virgin olive oil and herbs. Ryder also endorsed an existing dish, grilled chicken with multi-grain pasta and a side of vegetables.

“They’re looking for garlic, lots of green veggies and organic proteins,” he said. “What we’ve done is not over the top, but I really wanted to make sure that we’re there, that we’re getting good things in all the items as high as possible.”

Angelina’s officially launched the partnership at dinner Friday night.

At Soup Gallery on Main Street, Natalia Strong was able to raise $60 for the program last month.

Most of the soups at Soup Gallery won Ryder’s approval, since they start with fresh organic vegetables.

“We just avoid the soups with cream-based broths when we talk about the program with customers,” Strong said.

“It’s an honor that they’ve chosen to recognize us as part of the program,” she said.

The other restaurants involved so far are Café Indigo, Granite Restaurant at The Centennial Hotel and Country Spirit Restaurant in Henniker.

Someday, local residents may be able to stay on the Anticancer path even when they’re on the road.

MidState Medical Center in Meriden, Conn., is launching the second Anticancer program in the country, with the first class meeting March 12, Kane said.

For now, MidState officials are working with their local YMCA and organic farms but could launch similar restaurant-meal endorsements in the future. The hospital is similar in size to Concord Hospital, but is based in an urban center and serves different demographics. If they can successfully replicate the program on their own, Concord Hospital will begin looking for funding to disseminate it more widely, Kane said.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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