Street Vendors, Liquor Stores, McDonald's, King Taco and Foster's Freeze are just a few examples of the eating options that are within blocks of Soto Street in the Boyle Heights community of Los Angeles. In looking at the food options that present themselves to the community of East LA, one thing is clear: fast food is in abundance and convenience is paramount. Brightly colored signs illuminate the cheap prices and the local fare. From Flaco's Taco street stand selling al pastor to Otomisan Restaurant on 1st Street with its traditional Japanese cuisine there are a plethora of restaurant options but with very few supermarkets it may seem that the residents of East Los Angeles do not have an abundance of healthier options available to them.
Community Activist and former County Supervisor of this District, Gloria Molina, has recognized the need for heath and wellness services in an area plagued by an over abundance of cheap and low nutritional value food choices. With delicious but high caloric food readily available, the health of the community has suffered immensely. Recognizing this need, The Wellness Center at the Historic General Hospital was Gloria Molina's brainchild.
The Wellness Center at the Historic General Hospital and the White Memorial Medical Center are both dedicated to providing an array of services that seek to improve the health and welfare of the community. Each facility offers a unique set of classes and support groups that benefit the local community. From nutrition classes to support groups and even exercise classes for kids and adults both facilities are among the few health and wellness resources available in a sea of fast food convenience.
In a community filled with fast, tasty options and cultural eating behaviors playing a role it seems that the Boyle Heights community isn't fighting a battle of availability, but rather a battle of knowledge of what they are eating and being able to feed themselves and their families without breaking the bank. Which is why innovative organizations like the Wellness Center are become such important resources for the community.
According to Marianna Garcia, A Wellness Navigator at the center, Supervisor Molina's vision was to "really create a center where families and just about anyone can come and receive health preventative services and help with their wellness and well being." A non-profit organization, The Wellness Center houses sixteen different organizations committed to health at all stages including "Prevention, Education and Advocacy." Garcia opines that the center really is a "one stop shop."
Garcia further explains that although the Wellness Center is not a clinical setting, "the community aspect, the preventative aspect and the health aspect of it really makes it just a great place for all these organizations to come together and really have the same goal of improving community wellness and providing programs to do so." Upon entering the Center, clients are met by a Wellness Navigator and are able to receive services that allows doctors to consult with them on anything from "Health Advocacy/Legal Advice and Services to Physical Fitness and/Healthy Eating/ Cooking." This allows the Center to better tailor the needs of its clients to the resources offered.
Having just opened it's doors in March, the Center is still undergoing many renovations according to Marisa Cordova, a Director of The Wellness Center. Cordova explains that one of the biggest struggles is getting the word out about the Center to the community. Each day Cordova will meet with a representative of one of the sixteen different organizations that comprise the Wellness Center to make sure they are working towards a common goal. Since the Center is still new many of the features (which includes a walking track and outdoor exercise equipment) of the Wellness Center are still under construction and set to open in January.
Also in the East Los Angeles Community and not far from The Wellness Center at the Historical General Hospital is the White Memorial Medical Center which also offers innovative and specialized nutritional programs that have an emphasis on Diabetes Prevention.
Ruth Pupo, a registered dietician at White Memorial Medical Center leads an innovative Diabetes Prevention program where she leads nutritional classes and takes patients through local grocery stores to teach healthy food choices for home preparation. Pupo's program at White Memorial takes a more hands on approach which helps her patients to not only make healthier choices but also maintain a healthier lifestyle.
Together The Wellness Center and White Memorial Medical Center are taking the lead in providing services and community programming that are dedicated to improving the long term health of residents the East Los Angeles area. Both of these worthwhile programs hope to expand their outreach and continue providing services well into the future.