Thirty years fighting against hunger
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
Over the past three decades, Feed The Hungry San Miguel de Allende, a nonprofit organization that provides breakfast to children in rural communities, has grown and evolved from one small, humble kitchen located in St. Paul’s Church to 26 kitchens scattered across San Miguel de Allende and now feeds more than 4,000 school-age children. The organization is getting ready to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
La Palmilla and its happy faces
Feed the Hungry (FTH) invited Atención to visit La Palmilla, a rural community located in the mountains between San Miguel de Allende and Los Rodríguez. To get to urban San Miguel, the inhabitants of La Palmilla have to walk for about an hour to La Palma, and from there they take a bus to Centro. Going out to work in San Miguel is not worthwhile, said the inhabitants, because the jobs that they can get are as gardeners or maids and they are not paid more than 100 pesos a day. They have to spend 30 pesos for bus fare, or more if they miss the bus. Those who have not left the community to go to el norte (United States) cultivate seasonal crops. Some of the families at la Palmilla are made up of 10 members, such as Toño Tapia and Esther Álvarez’s family.
Seventy children are enrolled in the multi-grade primary school in La Palmilla, where there are just two teachers; next to the primary school is the kindergarten where 10 children are educated by Magdaleno Ramírez, a promoter from the CONAFE system. In this community FTH built a kitchen four years ago, where two mothers prepare balanced and nutritious meals for the students every day.
Each day at 10:30am, the kindergartners leave the classroom and go to the kitchen for food. Teacher Lidia Diosdado told Atención that the community has a lot of scarcities, and for that reason the food offered by FTH is very important not just for the children but also for the families, who can save a little bit of money. “Always there is so much food that I can have breakfast too,” she said, and she thanks FTH for its support. Sometimes at the beginning of the school year FTH also hands out notebooks for the students.
The children at that school wish to go to college. Most of them want to become teachers. They said, “We want to be teachers in order to help the children do their homework and also to teach them to read and write.” They said that the breakfast is good and what they like the most is the dessert. A sixth-grade student noted that her parents have advised her at home to eat all the food offered in the school kitchen. “They told me that if I eat this food I will be immune to hepatitis or anemia, that this food helps us to be healthy and strong,” she commented.
While they were eating, some of the kindergartners talked with Atención, such as Manuelín, who with his fingers indicated that he is six years old and commented, “When I grow up I want to sell tacos, so I can have a lot of food.” Magdaleno Ramírez, the instructor, is 18 years old and has been at La Palmilla for one year. He says that he enjoys spending time with the children because he can recall his childhood. Ramírez also said every day when the children arrive for class, the first question he asks them is, Did you have breakfast? Only two or three of them say “yes.” So, for the rest, breakfast at school is their first meal of the day.
Family farms and water filtration
In 2009, FTH launched a project, Family Farms, not just to feed students but also to teach families how to grow and
harvest vegetables at their homes. This initiative consists of training the inhabitants of the rural communities to prepare the soil and plant potatoes, carrots and radishes, as well as tomatoes, chilies, cilantro, chard, and other vegetables.
FTH has helped more than 240 families in 18 communities build their gardens, 25 meters by 1.5 meters, by augmenting the earth with manure, ashes and compost. Each garden generates a one-time cost of 420 pesos for the organization, which gives out seeds and chicken wire to protect the area. Nowadays, the employees of the organization are still supporting 144 gardens and the rest are self-sustainable, such as that of Toño Tapia and Esther Álvarez.
The owners of two of these gardens, including that of the Tapia Álvarez family, also have filters for cleaning the gray water used for washing dishes or bathing. The water passes through three phases of filtration and in the end “it comes out very clear,” said doña Esther. Gloria González, who hosted a meeting of those who own family farms, said that sometimes because of problems with the well they do not have potable water for three months. When that happens, they use the filtered water (with some drops of chlorine) for bathing again, as well as for the animals and, of course, for watering the garden.
Those who have gardens also receive training on what dishes they can prepare with their harvested vegetables. “What I prepare the most is salad, and I add a bit of everything,” said Esther Álvarez, whose garden produces a surplus. For that reason, Isabel Rico, coordinator of the program, is looking for a distributor of organic vegetables to help that family earn a little money from their vegetables.
In 1984 several indigents used to beg for food outside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and for that reason the parishioners at that time, including Bill Casselberry, took the initiative of feeding them by preparing meals in a small kitchen in the church. Years later, the current emeritus president, Tony Aldelbert, was asked to take over the program. He accepted on one condition: The new operational model must not be related to religious institutions. This condition was accepted and supported by the expat community in the city.
Since then, Feed the Hungry San Miguel has grown to provide nutritious and well-balanced meals to more than 4,000 students who daily have breakfast in one of the 26 kitchens next to their schools. The organization also provides support to five nonprofit organizations that work with children as well as to the ALMA home for the elderly.
“On the last weekend in October Feed the Hungry San Miguel will celebrate 30 years with a spectacular celebration of Mexican culture at the Plaza de Toros and other locations in honor of the children of San Miguel de Allende. There will be something for everyone. Stay tuned for details,” stated a letter submitted to Atención. For more information go to www.feedthehungrysma.org.