A Recipe for Healthy Communities

April 19, 2018 | Chicago, IL

A group of approximately 20 women stand around tables in Templeton Hall at Erie Neighborhood House in what has become a makeshift kitchen. No oven, stovetop or food processors; just paring knives, cutting boards and mixing utensils.

Each individual has a task: Dicing bell peppers and jalapeños, slicing avocados, chopping onions (“¡Estoy llorando!” laughs one of the women, wiping away a tear produced by the onion) and cilantro. Some work quietly, but a smattering of conversation takes place around the table.

It’s becoming a familiar scene as community members put on red Erie House aprons to learn about nutrition and try out a fresh new spin on a traditional food with a new recipe each week. Today’s recipe is for tuna burritos.

Comprando Rico y Sano

Community members all lend a hand making tuna burritos during a Comprando Rico y Sano workshop at Erie House. The workshops and charlas take place on a weekly basis at Erie House and other sites throughout the city and suburbs. PHOTO BY BRIAN PAFF

The cooking workshop is part of Comprando Rico y Sano—“Buying Delicious and Healthy”—an initiative fueled by the UnidosUS Institute for Hispanic Health and the Walmart Foundation to empower individuals and families in the Latinx community to fix affordable, healthy meals that also taste great.

Elva Serna, community engagement specialist in the Health and Leadership Program at Erie House, is excited about the impact the new initiative is making. “It is encouraging to see community members returning every week and bringing their families and friends to our events,” she says.

Serna has been coordinating cooking workshops and charlas—conversations about nutrition—for Comprando Rico y Sano since last summer. “I enjoy leading the program because I love to interact with our participants,” she adds. “The best part is that we bring the program to the community. I have been able to work at churches, senior centers, day cares, schools, and parks, which allows me to learn from and engage with our community on a deeper level.”

Comprando Rico y Sano workshops take place at Erie House each Friday from 9:00 to 11:00 am. They’re also offered on Tuesdays at Marquez Elementary School (2916 W 47th St, Chicago) from 8:00 to 10:00 am and St. Mary of Celle Family Strengthening Center (1448 S Wesley, Berwyn) from 12:00 to 2:00 pm.

“Elva is incredible at relating to our community,” says Health and Leadership Program director Micaella Verro, praising her for the level of respect and appreciation with which she treats each of the participants in Comprando Rico y Sano. “She teaches classes using a ‘popular education’ model, so the knowledge and skills of each participants is honored equally to that of the program facilitators. All of the classes are highly interactive, and Elva always finds a way to make it fun.”

"It’s fulfilling to be able to help the community.”

– Gloria Hernandez, Erie House participant and Promotora de Salud for Comprando Rico y Sano

Last year Erie House reached more than 1,000 individuals in the community through Comprando Rico y Sano, thanks in part to the work of a promotores de salud, or health promoters, who help lead workshops and charlas.

Erie House participant and promotora de salud Gloria Hernandez enjoys working with Comprando Rico y Sano. “It’s fulfilling to be able to help the community,” says Hernandez.

In addition to leading cooking workshops and charlas, she is also a Zumba instructor who regularly leads sessions of the dance-based workout at Erie House. Hernandez volunteers as a Community Navigator as well, leading “Know Your Rights” workshops to deliver information and resources to people in the undocumented community. “I’m proud to be part of this organization,” she says.


Erie House participant and promotora de salud Gloria Hernandez leads a zumba workout during a Comprando Rico y Sano event at Erie House in January. PHOTO BY BRIAN PAFF

Back in Templeton Hall, it’s almost time to sample the new recipe.

After mixing the fresh vegetables together with lightly dressed tuna fish, they will wrap the contents in an hoja de lechuga—a crisp, green leaf of lettuce—in place of a tortilla.

The burrito is served cold and seems a little odd at first without a more familiar tortilla. But a bite or two in and they are hooked. One participant brings a plate over to her husband, who is seated apart from the group but seems curious about this recipe.

He, too, approves. Rico y sano.


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