Casa de Salud is Spanish for "House of Health." And one recent
night, a dozen cooks of Hispanic heritage gathered at this midtown
location to learn more healthful preparations of traditional foods.
"The goal is teaching them how to make a healthy, delicious meal
on a budget," says Christina Popp, a registered dietitian and staff
member of the St. Louis University Cancer Center who is teaching the
"And it's healthy, but it's also culturally familiar," adds
Eileen Wolfington, Casa de Salud's lead community health worker.
Casa de Salud opened in 2010 as a health and wellness clinic for
uninsured or underinsured Latinos in the St. Louis area. SLU
sponsors Casa de Salud, renting a building for $1 a year and
providing faculty and students who make up a majority of its
volunteers. Casa de Salud also has partnerships with Washington
University's Center for Latino Family Research, Health Literacy
Missouri and many other local organizations and businesses.
Almost immediately upon opening, demand exceeded expectations,
and Casa de Salud's facility - in an old auto parts store at the
corner of Compton and Chouteau avenues, at the edge of SLU's medical
campus - added 4,000 square feet in 2012, doubling its size.
In conjunction with diagnosis and treatment (and referral to more
comprehensive facilities when necessary), Casa de Salud offers a
number of programs aimed at increasing health literacy among the
local Hispanic community and promoting healthier lifestyles. This
night's class is part of Despensa de Salud (Pantry of Health), which
teaches practical skills such as understanding nutritional labeling
and serving healthful portion sizes.
The cooks pair off in alcoves in the instructional kitchen of
SLU's nutrition and dietetics department, a few blocks' walk from
the Casa de Salud building. After they get settled, they set about
measuring and chopping in preparation for making gazpacho,
quesadillas and a watermelon cooler.
Popp's encouragement and instruction are bilingual, and several
of the class members warm when she addresses them in Spanish.
"Sometimes our students only speak English, and sometimes they
only speak Spanish," Popp says. "Sometimes it's neither - they speak
a dialect of some mountain region."
On this evening, several children have tagged along - although
fewer than the most recent class, says Popp.
"The last session, the younger ones were the ones who wanted to
be cooking," Popp says. "Sometimes our grad students will play with
the kids, and we also have activities for them to learn about
healthy eating habits."
And sometimes, Casa de Salud staff and volunteers go above and
beyond to ensure that class members and their families can get here.
"Sometimes not everyone can make it, so they have to go pick up
people from their houses," Popp says.
After the cooking is completed, Popp talks to the class about
various aspects of shopping, preparation and nutrition.
"I came here to learn a different way how to make the foods,"
says class member Sam Bolanos, who has spent the evening making
quesadillas. Bolanos is no stranger to the kitchen; he works in one
at a downtown restaurant.
"There's always something new, something better to learn," he
Now, however, it's time to eat. …