Building a better future for San Miguel’s children
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
Feed the Hungry San Miguel de Allende is celebrating its 27th anniversary and has launched a fundraising campaign that will allow the organization to continue and expand its work supporting children such as Mariza, a primary-school student who wants to be a teacher, or Ricardo, who is in second grade and is determined to become a policeman “to protect the citizens from the current insecurity in the country.” To secure its future the organization needs to raise 575,000 pesos; the money will also help them double the number of children they feed over the next 10 years.
Feed the Hungry
In 1984, Bill and Martha Casselberry approached Reverend Dean Underwood in order to launch a program for feeding the hungry indigent in San Miguel through St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. For 10 years the organization operated under their leadership and was strongly supported by volunteers. Tony Aldelbert, current emeritus president of the organization, said that after a few years those who began the project grew weary of spending so much time raising money and buying and cooking food. They were not prepared to continue doing this job for a long period. Several years later, they made the decision to close down Feed the Hungry. “They asked me if I was willing to take over FTH, and I said I would do it as long as I could do anything that I chose to rebuild the organization. The first thing that I did was remove it from St Paul’s Church and started a Mexican civil association so we could receive financial support from the English-speaking Catholic community, the Jewish community, other individuals and family foundations, among others,” said Aldelbert. He also commented that when he and his wife started rebuilding FTH they used to visit some rural communities to interview people. He said that on one occasion they talked with a child named Juan Carlos and asked him whether he had had breakfast that morning. The boy answered: “No señor. Today it was not my turn. It was my sister’s.”
This was the reason why FTH started its school kitchen program. These kitchens are administrated by the organization and most of them have a “kitchen angel.” According to Aldelbert, the kitchens have all the necessities for a certified kitchen and are inspected by the state government. “We always receive high marks,” he said.
The current organization
Currently FTH feeds more than 4,000 children through community kitchens in 23 rural schools and four located in the urban area, the orphanages in the city and ALMA, a home for the elderly, as well as street people in Las Monjas. In 2011, Feed the Hungry purchased land and an old workshop on the road to La Cieneguita; construction and equipping are still underway so the organization can accommodate future growth and expand its programs to feed and educate low-income people. In its new 1,000-square-meter building FTH has already improved the packaging and the food delivery system to the rural kitchens, and with this way of operating they could double the number of people they feed in the next 10 years, widen their family nutrition program for children and pregnant mothers and increase the number of families they train to plant and maintain productive gardens.
Well-balanced meals in Sosnabar
The primary school Naciones Unidas is located in Sosnabar, a rural community on the road to Querétaro. In this community Feed the Hungry opened a kitchen that provides food every day for the 289 children who attend the school. Principal Gabriel Mendoza Grimaldi said he was working in Jalpa before and there was a FTH kitchen there, too. He said that when the organization came to explore the possibility of opening a kitchen in the school, “I already knew about the benefits, so immediately I said yes. Parents, teachers and our supervisors had been consulted and had already said that we could accept all those programs targeted for the students’ benefit.” In all the schools where the organization operates kitchens, junk food stands have been removed. According to principal Mendoza, since the children have been fed by FTH they have even improved their scores on the ENLACE exams (government-administered achievement tests). According to him, many mothers say that it is not easy to feed their children before coming to school because many times they do not have money to buy food, and for that reason many times the first food the children eat during the day is the meal they have here at the school.”
Claudia Servín is a teacher at the Naciones Unidas School and commented that before they had the kitchen “many children used to arrive without having breakfast at home. They were undernourished, and that seriously affected their learning process. Nowadays there are no absences and the children wait anxiously for their food break. Their behavior has improved and now they are more active. They participate in the classes and they want to spend more time in the school. Before FTH they did not even used to speak; they were more apathetic.”
Children’s mothers are happy
Alma Ramírez, a mother from Sosnabar, commented, “These foods not only help us avoid malnutrition in our children but they help us economically because sometimes we do not have money to feed them, and here they can eat at least once. My daughter is very intelligent, and she has improved her grades.” Another mother, Ana Jiménez, said, “It is good that the children receive nutritious food, and we are very grateful for that. I have two daughters here, and thanks to the breakfasts, I can now save some money and use it for other needs.” Esperanza Gallegos commented that the breakfasts are very nutritious, much better than the junk food. She also said that “the children are just the same—they do not want to dedicate more time to studying, but at least they are not as apathetic as they used to be, and they are just waiting for the time to have food.” Parents provide tortillas to accompany the breakfasts, twice or three times a year, at a cost of about 90 pesos.
At 10:30am the bell rang in Naciones Unidas Primary School, and the students came out from their classrooms and went directly to the school kitchen to get their food. The older ones came out from the kitchen with their food and sat down under a tree to eat, and the younger students stayed in the dining room, where some mothers were handing out tortillas. Erick has two brothers in the same school and he already knows that he wants to be a soccer player in the future “because I love playing soccer.” Eva has six brothers and a sister; she eats twice in the school because “at home we never have money or food to eat. That is the reason I eat twice,” she commented, adding that she wants to be a doctor.
Diana Rodríguez, the nutritionist for Feed the Hungry, said that the menu for the children is different each day of the week and in general it changes three or four times during the year, depending on the season.