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Poverty can make you ill

The aroma of the wholesome home-cooked chowder, dense with ham, onions, cabbage, potato and corn, spread throughout the teaching kitchen at the Virginia Garcia Wellness Center in Cornelius.

Prepared by an instructor, Matilde Rodriquez, and a student, Patrocinia Aguilera — a 41-year-old married mother of three daughters who lives in Forest Grove — the chowder is just part of a wellness program offered by the Virginia Garcia Wellness Center to low-income residents of Washington County. Aguilera tries to come to the 90-minute Wellness Center’s OSU Extension Service class every Tuesday.

“I’ve been learning how to prepare nutritious foods for my family, how to read food labels, prepare food shopping lists — and not to buy non-nutritious foods and how to cook with less fats,” Aguilera said.

All the ingredients of the healthy, hearty-flavored chowder, from a recipe on the “Food Hero” website, would typically cost $5 and serve up to 10 portions, each with 160 calories, 5 grams of fat and 430 mg of sodium. That’s slightly less than the $5.69 price of a single McDonald’s Big Mac “Extra Value Meal” with 900 calories, 38 grams of fat and 1,090 mg of sodium.

The teaching kitchen is part of the center’s Wellness Program, which helps low-income families develop and maintain habits that will keep them healthy, such as exercise and good nutrition, along with access to a primary care team.

The program is driven by the recognition that poverty and poor health tend to go in tandem, and that Oregon’s families and businesses benefit from healthy citizens.

Poverty often means insufficient or unwholesome food, unhealthy living conditions, inadequate access to sanitation and clean water and lack of quality medical care, all of which can make you sick.

The solution is economically secure families that can raise well-nourished, healthy children who are ready to learn — and eventually earn — so they can enjoy a healthier and more rewarding life.

Dedicated, caring people throughout Washington County are working hard to make that happen.

At Pacific University, there are many academic programs that provide high quality health professions education in a wide variety of disciplines, many of which are associated with clinical and community services that address social determinants of health.

AMIGOS Eye Care is a nonprofit organization affiliated with Pacific University College of Optometry. It provides quality vision care at no cost to underserved people.

In the Pacific College of Health Professions, several clinics are available to serve our communities. Pacific Dental Hygiene Clinic serves 4,000 patients every year in Hillsboro, and a mobile van provides dental services to rural communities in our region. Pacific Psychology & Comprehensive Health Clinic also provides affordable and accessible outpatient assessment and therapy services to children, adults, couples and families at clinics in Portland and Hillsboro.

Tuality Healthcare has had a longstanding commitment to building a healthier community, recognizing that poor health can be an outcome from and a cause of poverty. Tuality has offered free bilingual classes in nutrition and other health education for decades, and has sponsored the “Salud!” migrant health services and screening program since 1992. Partnering with local social service agencies, such as Community Action, provides an even bigger positive impact.

Community Action has been working for 50 years to address the connection between poverty and health in Washington County. Community Action provides hope, help and change by leading the way to eliminate conditions of poverty and create opportunities for people and communities to thrive.

By helping families stay in their homes with emergency rent assistance, Community Action promotes stability and family health.

By providing utility and heating assistance, the agency ensures families won’t have to live in cold, dark housing, eat cold food and wash with cold water that makes them more susceptible to illness.

Free food programs targeted at the poor also help sustain good health because nutritious food is good for you and also because its availability means you can spare money for medical care and prescriptions for family members.

Poverty is the “most deadly and prevalent of all diseases,” in the words of the playwright, Eugene O’Neill.

Through thoughtful, supportive people and programs, we can cure that.

Ann Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D., is vice provost and executive dean of Pacific University’s College of Health Professions. Dick Stenson is retired president and CEO of Tuality Healthcare.

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