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Community Kitchens to Feed the Elderly and Children

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

Spots on the skin and even in the eyes, low energy, and sad faces are just some of the symptoms that teacher Araceli Espinosa Hernández has found in the students in the schools where she has worked. To combat children’s malnutrition and help students in kindergarten, primary, and secondary school to avoid hunger, the municipal and state DIF (Department for Integral Family Development), with the assistance of the students’ parents, operates 49 community kitchens that change the children’s faces and attitudes daily.

School Breakfast Program

The municipal DIF operates 14 social programs, including the food program that contributes to improving the nutrition of children in vulnerable conditions who are enrolled in official public schools and located in marginalized zones in indigenous, rural, and urban areas. Community kitchens, operated by the parents, promoters from DIF, and teachers, serve both a cold breakfast (made up of 250 milliliters of nonfat milk, 30 or 60 grams of wholegrain, dried fruits, or a portion of seeds with dried fruit) and a hot breakfast is prepared daily to be given to the students during study break. This breakfast includes milk and a main course of vegetables or legumes, meat, corn tortillas, and fresh fruit. The food culture of the zones is considered in determining the breakfasts. DIF suggests complementing the dishes with seasonal products harvested in the communities, such as zucchini, green beans, nopale or corn seeds. The operation of the kitchens is the responsibility of the parents, who have their own regulations.

Presita de Santa Rosa

Two years ago, the primary school education of this community of 60 families (with an average of four children each) was provided by CONAFE (National Council for Education Development) until the arrival of teacher Hernández. She has worked in rural communities for 17 years and is also the director of this small school, which has a kindergarten group of 20 students and a primary school multi-grade group of 27 students.

When Atención arrived in the community, a group of mothers and daughters were at work cleaning the area outside the community kitchen. Hernández invited us to visit the communal dining room. She has tried her best to get breakfast from DIF for the students in these areas. In other schools, she had noticed some students fainting during the classes because of hunger and malnutrition. In this community, after filling out forms with basic information about the students, she realized that the students had low weight compared to others in their age group, as well as learning problems. She decided to request the support of the local DIF to provide healthy food for them.

“I got an answer after two weeks,” she said. Later, she talked with the mothers about using the community house as a kitchen and dining room, and they agreed. Inside this small building, a kitchen was set up as well as a pantry. The teacher commented that currently four mothers are about to leave the program because they cannot afford to bring a couple of kilos of vegetables, fruit, or beans. She said, “We are trying to organize events to generate money to keep their children in the feeding program.”

“What will we have for breakfast today?” I asked when I got into the kitchen, where two moms were cooking.

“Potato croquettes with rice and salad, and to drink we have natural oat flavored water,” said one of them, whose children were enrolled in this school two years ago. Students arrived in pairs because the school is working with the Olas de Paz (Waves of Peace) group to eradicate bullying. Older students protect younger classmates from those who want to disturb them.

The students enter the dining area, form a line, and wash their hands before they take their seats at the table. Mothers in charge of the kitchen serve the food, and the students cannot begin eating until all are served. Once each student has food, they join their hands, and one of them asks a blessing.

Then it is time to eat. The mothers have a meeting outside the building and smile, saying that they are happy for this service provided by  DIF for their children.

Los Galvanes

The kitchen of Los Galvanes has been open for 13 years. “You cannot enter here!” a mother called to me from the kitchen. “First, you need to wash your hands. That is the rule.” After that I went into the common area, and the president of the community talked with me. Amalia Tapia commented that the area that is now the kitchen was originally the school classrooms. Later, the area was set up as a dining room and kitchen for the meal program for 127 children. That day the meal was soy bean meat with mayonnaise and vegetables, accompanied with tostadas (corn chips). Most of the students interviewed said the food was good.

The committee that controls this kitchen is very organized. Five members are responsible for a group of 72 mothers. The committee makes a schedule for the teams of four moms to handle cooking, serving, and cleaning. Each group works two or three times during the school year.

Austín Melgar Primary School of Los Galvanes has 207 students enrolled, but only 127 receive the benefit because parents of others do not show interest in feeding their children healthy food, said the mothers in the kitchen. According to the president, “We cannot force them to participate in the program.”

The señoras in this kitchen also prepare breakfast for more than 60 elderly people in different locations to give them easier access to the food.

DIF operates 49 community kitchens in rural communities and marginal neighborhoods in the urban area. The program benefits more than five thousand children and elderly daily . Each kitchen is equipped with a budget of 25 thousand pesos. The consumable goods for feeding 80 people a month cost 10,100 pesos.

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