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Why 107 Hot Showers Matter

In one morning alone, 107 men living outside St. Mary’s Dining Room (a full health and social services agency near San Francisco) had come to take hot showers. And what do showers have to do with health? Everything.

I traveled to St. Mary’s Dining Room in Stockton, California recently to visit our free clinic partner as part of the regular visits to clinics that receive our donations of medicines or that are part of our clinic programming. At St. Mary’s, the need is immediately visible. Rows of tents and tarps line the street leading up to the facility. Living inside these tents are many of the patients who rely on a myriad of services provided by St. Mary’s. While the organization has its roots in a soup kitchen opened in 1955, it has evolved into a full service primary care clinic (the Virginia J. Gianellli Medical Clinic), dental office and operatory, social service organization, clothing distributer and shower provider. As Mary Anne Soria, Director of Medical Services explained, “We are more than just a meal.” That’s an understatement.

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What St. Mary’s offers is more than services: it provides dignity. The staff at St. Mary’s intimately understands the critical concept of social determinants of health: that health is profoundly affected by the conditions in which we live and goes well beyond clinic walls. Examples of social determinants include not only access to health care services, but also availability of educational and job opportunities, social support, transportation options and cultural offerings. Good health is achieved by more than a diagnosis and a prescription; it is obtained by treating the whole person, beginning with the means to manage the daily reality of their lives.

St. Mary’s addresses poverty by feeding the hungry, addressing health concerns, and as Ms. Soria explains, “Restoring human dignity” to over 700 individuals each day, one shower at a time.

Learn more about our partner, St. Mary’s Dining Room, and their history of “restoring human dignity since 1955.”

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