Health care, garden volunteers sought; share your recipes

Volunteers, including a group of seventh grade students from Central Reform Congregation, harvest sweet potatoes at The Garden of Eden in October. This year, the garden has donated more than two tons of produce to the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry.

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Wanted: Doctors and mental health professionals 

Now is the time of year many of us start looking toward 2018 and changes we want to make in our lives. For some, these changes include losing weight, giving up alcohol, stopping smoking — the list goes on. For others, looking ahead to the new year means giving back to their community in the form of volunteering.

As you may be aware, the Jewish Light has opened up nominations for its 9th Annual 2018 Unsung Heroes Awards (see Page 19 for details). Each year, I am astounded at the way nominees donate their time and talents to so many incredible organizations within both the St. Louis Jewish and general communities.

While the Light chooses roughly 10 nominees to be honored as heroes, many others certainly deserve recognition. But the truth is the majority of those who volunteer aren’t looking for any awards — they just want to help make a difference and support others in need.

Dr. Gary Ratkin is clearly in that camp. He and his wife Marilyn, who was honored as a Jewish Light Unsung Hero in 2010, are what I would describe as uber volunteers. If they can help, they will. 

Currently, Gary Ratkin is volunteering with Casa de Salud (meaning House of Health in Spanish), which provides health care to the uninsured in the St. Louis area, with a special focus on the immigrant and refugee community. The clinic was founded in 2010 by local civic leader Bob Fox, who enlisted the help of St. Louis University, which provided the organization a building rent-free at 3200 Chouteau Ave. 

Jorge Riopedre, president of the clinic, said Casa sees about 500 patients a month and refers more than 150 to specialists, such as oncologists and cardiologists. The facility also manages as many as 300 patient cases a month. A flat fee of $25 is charged per visit; if someone can’t pay, he or she  doesn’t pay. 

“If a physician is able to deal with their problem, great,” said Riopedre. “If the patient needs specialty care, they are then assigned a case manager. That case manager will find a hospital, a specialist, a physician’s practice, that can take the patient on either as charity care or a payment plan. We negotiate the cost upfront for the patient and accompany the patient to all subsequent visits outside of Casa and serve as their advocate.”

Riopedre explains that transportation is often a barrier for patients getting to their appointments. If so, Casa will pay for a round-trip Uber or ride-share to make sure patients can get to all of their appointments.

In mid-February, Casa de Salud will launch a collaborative to provide care for their patient’s mental health needs. Riopedre explained that Casa has renovated a building, also owned by SLU, adjacent to its clinic to house the mental health facility.

“Casa has always provided mental health consulting and psychiatric referrals,” said Ratkin. “However, we have recognized that for many of the immigrants, especially those with refugee status, there are significant mental health needs. Those from the Middle East and Central America in particular have a high incidence of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).”

Both Ratkin and Riopedre said that what Casa needs most right now are volunteers, specifically mental health professionals, such as psychologists and therapists. In addition, primary care physicians are always needed, along with nurse practioners and physician assistants. “Volunteers are the life blood of our organization,” said Riopedre.  “In the (general) clinic, that means primarily internal medicine doctors. Having said that, we do enjoy having specialists. Even though we are going to eventually refer patients in need of specialty care, to have a specialist be able to see them here and do that initial assessment does wonders for when we get them referred.”

Ratkin, 75, who retired from private practice five years ago, is a hematologist and oncologist. He started volunteering with Casa de Salud shortly after he retired. In addition, he recently began volunteering at the International Institute, teaching citizenship literacy to New Americans.

“I get a great deal of satisfaction (at Casa) because we not only get to see patients, we also follow them so we can see our results,” said Ratkin, who says he spends roughly five to six hours a week volunteering at Casa. “It’s a very positive way of practicing medicine. We are spared all of the issues regarding insurance because none of our patients have insurance.”

For more information on becoming a volunteer with Casa de Salud, contact Ruth Vilches, community engagement coordinator, at 314-977-1258 or [email protected].


How big does the garden grow?

Speaking of volunteers, another Unsung Hero, Myra Sue Rosenthal, is looking for groups or individuals for the 2018 growing season of the Garden of Eden at the Jewish Community Center near Creve Coeur. The growing season runs from mid-March through November.

Rosenthal says volunteers do not need to know gardening skills; they will be taught to plant, care for, and harvest. She also proudly notes that in 2017, the Garden of Eden grew more than two tons of produce worth more than $10,000 for the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry. 

Contact Rosenthal at [email protected] to find out more and to get on the volunteer list.  


We want your treasured recipes

Starting in January, the Jewish Light will reignite a monthly recipe exchange, publishing favorite recipes sent to us by our readers. In order to make this successful, we need your help.

If you care to participate, please submit a favorite recipe or two, including all the ingredients and step-by-step directions to prepare the recipe. Remember to specify how long the recipe should be cooked and at what oven temperature. Recipes should be sent to [email protected] and be sure to write “recipe exchange” in the message field. Feel free to upload a picture of the finished dish, and if you’d like, include yourself and your family enjoying the food.

Be sure to include your name, a daytime phone number, the area where you live (Creve Coeur, St. Louis city, Chesterfield, etc.) and any story about the recipe in 100 words or less.