Hurricanes are in the news across Canada, the US and the Caribbean. Friends of Cozumel with the aid of our local volunteer leaders proactively prepared to help 140 Cozumel families with emergency mini-despensas in the event of a category #2+ hurricane. Despensas are dry food products. The food was purchased when “Ian” was forming in the Caribbean. Since then, Hurricane Ian’s path has changed to have the greatest impact on Florida.
Although we will not distribute the mini-despensas now, they are stored and ready to distribute from two locations whenever needed just before a hurricane. Families on our list will be advised via whatsapp to come to: 1) Vida Abundante Church or 2) Amigos de Cozumel bodega (our storage location) on a certain day/time and bring their bag. The mini-despensas include enough food for 1-2 days: 4 liters drinking water, tuna, mayo, crackers, spaghetti, tomato puree, precooked pouches of refried beans, canned mixed vegetables, powdered chocolate milk, a candle, matches, and cloro (bleach) to clean after hurricanes. Volunteers will deliver the mini-despensas to home-bound families.
The most economical brands of products were purchased from various stores. Each despensa cost 188 pesos ($9 USD) per family . . . a great “investment” to ensure families in need have food/drinking water during a hurricane. This is one example of how monetary donations we receive for “Greatest Needs” are used. The despensas will be stored until the island is forecasted to have a category #2+ hurricane or the end of the season. If not used by November; these despensas will distributed to help families during “low tourism season” when many jobs are affected.
Although local families with low resources may lack the funds to cover windows with wood panels or hurricane shutters; the process for preparing homes for those with resources provides temporary work/income for local families. We salute the families Friends of Cozumel supports who are very creative in using whatever they have to prepare their homes for hurricanes.
Students and their families dressed in their best clothes and arrived on foot or clinging together on a moto. They waited patiently, masks in place, to receive their school supplies. But beneath their masks they were smiling. They saw piles of brightly colored backpacks to choose from and stacks of notebooks, pencil pouches and geometry sets. The long list of supplies required by schools would no longer be a barrier to attending school.
After a two-year hiatus for Covid-19, students are back in school with face-to-face learning. Nearly 800 Cozumel students recently received a fresh supply of the tools they need to continue their education. It’s been a record-breaking year. The expanded number of students served required a carefully organized effort: connecting with the families, shepherding them through the inscription process, and staffing the distribution of backpacks stocked with the specific supplies needed for each grade level. A total of 51 local and visiting volunteers helped 790 students through the process. Twenty percent of those students have special needs.
“While we may have been able to do this with fewer workers, we chose to include local volunteers—27 of the 51—primarily to involve students and/or parents who benefit from this program,” said Karen, an FOC leader.
A few years ago, growing this program to help 500 students in need was a dream of Byron’s, one of the regular volunteers from Texas. His idea of a dramatic increase in the number of students served was not readily embraced by the other core volunteers.
“My head is still spinning from the 800 number,” Byron said. “But as I recall, the reaction to my proposal of 500 was everywhere from ‘that’s funny,’ to ‘how on earth could we manage that’?”
But FOC did indeed manage 500 plus nearly 300 more.
“It just takes, faith,” Byron said.
• The number of students served overall has increased. Numbers jumped from 179 in 2013 to 504 in 2017 to 790 in 2022.
• Students appear to be staying in school longer. Students were mainly in primary grades in the early years while this year 44% were in grade 7 and above. 167 students are now in high school and university programs.
• Students are interested in higher education, but often have to choose between going to school and working to support their families. FOC provides financial becas (scholarships) to all first semester prepa (high school) students and selected university students.
• Parents and older youth value the ability to read, but some have trouble seeing. As a result, FOC provided reading glasses to 63 people during this year’s school supply distribution.
24 Years and Counting
Friends of Cozumel founders have supported education for more than 24 years. We began working with Chrysalis in 1998 and expanded to support NUAFA in 2002. At this time, Friends of Cozumel was formed with goals to encourage education and offer support to families in need. These early partnerships with other established nonprofits helped chart a course for what eventually became FOC. Although NUAFA ended operations and Chrysalis recently merged with Friends of Cozumel, our focus on education, support of families and community, and volunteerism has not changed.
You Make a Difference
Donors provide in-kind contributions of school supplies while others make financial donations that are used to purchase paper products and other items locally. Many volunteers bring small sized donations in backpacks via cruise ships while others come to vacation and assist us in service projects.
Bob and Linda from Oklahoma have donated school supplies in past years, but this was their first time to come help with the distribution process.
“We said we ought to go help. Sometimes the Lord prompts us to do that,” said Bob.
Linda agrees. “We saw the need and it’s been exciting to see the kids pick out the backpacks they want. The looks on their faces—you can tell they’re trying to tell me thank you. I think they really appreciated the help.”
Now Collecting School Supplies
This year’s distribution is complete, but work has already begun to collect enough school supplies for next year. A list of needed supplies can be found here, but these items are especially needed:
Large (19”) backpacks for women
Spanish only dictionaries for elementary students
Spanish/English dictionaries for upper level students
Black dry erase markers
Special Thanks to Supporters
Whether it was a handshake, or thanks spoken in Spanish or English, the smiles from students and their family members said it all. We’d like to pass their appreciation on to you.
“It’s our wonderful donors throughout the year make this project possible,” said Karen.
Muchisimas gracias from 790 students, their parents and from all of the volunteers who appreciate your support.
Today we were honored to provide school supplies to CAM Primaria and CAM Secundaria schools in Cozumel for the upcoming school year that begins on August 29. Friends of Cozumel provided individual supplies for each student, a quantity of pens, markers and other supplies for the teaching staff plus four cases of white paper for the administration. The CAM schools in Mexico are established to serve children with special needs of all types. We are proud of our partnership with the CAM schools.
This weekend, we will be distributing individual backpacks, school supplies and paper products to over 630 children from families with limited resources.
Messsage from Amethyst Amatista, Cozumel Chrysalis Group Director…..
After over 25 years of service to the community, Chrysalis is now merging with another fine organization here on the island, Friends of Cozumel. Friends of Cozumel began about 15 years ago, also helping students from low-income families. Their focus has been on school supplies, and their numbers are impressive. In recent years they have been supporting over 500 students. I have known the founders of Friends of Cozumel, Karen and Larry Pedersen, for close to 20 years. They are very much hands on and have a great team of volunteers to help. There is no one on the island I would trust more or would even consider working with. The Chrysalis office has been emptied into the Friends of Cozumel bodega and is now closed. The owners of the property that has been the Chrysalis office, simultaneously chose to re-purpose this house, so this all came together at a good time. What does this mean for Chrysalis? I will continue to work to raise funds, coordinate donations dropped off at our locations on the island, and volunteer alongside Karen and Larry as my time permits. It does mean that we will also focus just on school supplies, as we have done for the past two years. We will no longer supply shoes or uniforms as we did prior to the pandemic. I look forward to continuing our joint mission of serving the Cozumel community.
Amethyst – Cozumel Chrysalis Group/Friends of Cozumel
It’s that time of year again! We are busy assembling packets that will be distributed in August to 700+ students in Cozumel. Each student will receive a new backpack, white & colored paper, notebook(s) along with a packet that includes items required for their grade level. Having willing volunteers help us prepare all of these individual packets makes the job go quickly. If you are coming to the island to visit in the future, we will continue to look for donations of school supplies. You can refer to our list of needed supplies http://friendsofcozumel.com/education/school-supplies/ or contact us directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information and to arrange a dropoff.
Mexico uses a “Traffic light” model as an indicator of Covid risk and to manage occupancy levels during the pandemic. Highest to lowest risk rankings are red, orange, yellow and green. States within Mexico may have different rankings. Quintana Roo is the state where Cozumel is located and includes cities on the mainland (Cancun, Tulum, Chetumal and Playa del Carmen, etc.).
The island had achieved green status a number of weeks ago. However, as the Omicron variant spread and more tourists arrived for high season, the number of covid cases and hospitalizations spiked resulting in a return to orange status. We suspended operating the Community Closet until this past week when Cozumel returned to “YELLOW” (75% capacity for restaurants and many services). NOTE: As of February 21 the status for all of Quintana Roo will be “GREEN” (100% occupancy)!
The job market is gradually opening back up providing some families with work to provide the basics they need. The Community Closet is stocked with gently used clothing, shoes and household items in addition to cleaning and hygiene products like shampoo, soap, antibacterial gel, feminine products at greatly discounted rates.
On Thursday, February 10, twenty families (limit of 2 persons per family) were invited to visit the closet during scheduled 30 minutes sessions. Families are given a coupon for 100 pesos of credit depending on the number of persons in their family so they can use the credit to purchase the items they need. They also have the option to purchase additional items beyond their credit if they have money to do so.
We extend a HUGE THANKS to the many people who have donated clothing and household items for this project and to the volunteers who help monitor the families as they arrive. All the families have been vetted by community leaders who help us identify families with the greatest need.
Being part of a close-knit family was always something a young Diana Marcela longed for. Although she was born into difficult circumstances in Sonson, Colombia, her wish came true when she was adopted at age 11 by her parents, Karen and Larry Pedersen. She lived a life of joy and kindness until her death on her 34th birthday from complications of a stroke and pancreatic cancer.
Diana’s presence always lit up a room. Her laughter was contagious, especially with her brothers around the family dining table. She was also determined, and maybe a bit stubborn, but the quality that consistently stood out to everyone who knew her was her smile.
Diana was a hard worker. She had to learn English and a whole new way of life when she came to the U.S. She graduated from Waukee High School in Iowa and attended Des Moines Area Community College, became a Certified Nursing Assistant and a certified SCUBA diver. She and the boys relocated from Iowa to Florida three years ago. She was a valued employee at several jobs while also serving as the U.S. Friends of Cozumel Coordinator receiving donations, handling bank transactions, and buying supplies to be transported to Cozumel, Mexico. Although Cozumel was like a second home to her, Diana was fiercely proud of her native country and being a citizen of both Colombia and the U.S.
Being a single mom wasn’t easy, but Diana was always more likely to look for people who needed help rather than to ask for help for herself. She began volunteer mission work with youth in Mexico at age 13 and continued throughout the rest of her life. She traveled to Mexico two or more times a year, volunteering her bilingual skills to translate for Friends of Cozumel missions, gathering and distributing school supplies and food to people in need, and helping with Bible school and educational workshops.
One of her greatest joys was being a mother to Braylon and Camilo. Diana loved creating family fun days and was a master at preserving memories by taking hundreds of photos with the boys and her friends. She was the queen of selfies, a natural beauty.
Diana had great faith in God and a loving and generous heart. One of her passions was helping other single mothers. She began donating in-kind home goods to Sheridan House to help single moms in South Florida set up their own independent living situations. Her family will continue supporting Sheridan House by donating home goods.
The relationships with her sons, family and close friends were the parts of life Diana treasured most. She is survived by sons Braylon Tindrell and Camilo Young, parents Larry and Karen Pedersen of Cozumel, Mexico and Weston, Florida; siblings Christian and Maggi Pedersen of Des Moines, Iowa, Van Pedersen of Denver, Colorado, sister Patricia Grisales of Medellin, Colombia, as well as close friends she chose as sisters; and godparents Gary and Phyllis Larsen of Lincoln, Nebraska. Family was everything to Diana and she adored her many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, grandparents and dear friends across the U. S., Mexico and Colombia.
Diana’s sons were always her first priority and many people have stepped forward to make sure they will be well cared for. The boys have recently transitioned to the care of their fathers in Iowa and Diana’s family will collaborate with their dads to continue being an important part of the boys’ lives. The family is setting up trust funds for the boys to help with special daily needs and to ensure they have future educational opportunities or job training.
Diana’s giving heart and her positive impact will continue through Diana’s SMILE, the Single Mothers Independent Living Endowment. Memorial gifts will create a fund to benefit single moms in Cozumel through support for medical expenses, food, and job training that will help them learn skills to support their children. Memorial contributions may be made in three ways:
1) Online, log into PayPal.com; pay to email@example.com; add a note: Diana’s SMILE.
2) Make checks out to Friends of Cozumel. Note in the memo line: Diana’s SMILE. Mail to: Friends of Cozumel, 2783 Kinsington Circle, Weston, Florida 33332.
3) Make a U.S. tax deductible donation with a check payable to Nacogdoches Community Church (not Friends of Cozumel). Note in the memo line: Friends of Cozumel—Diana’s SMILE. Mail to: Friends of Cozumel, C/O Hettie Legg, 817 N. Mound Street, Nacogdoches, Texas 75961.
Although her family and friends are heartbroken to lose her at such a young age, they feel incredibly blessed to have had Diana in their lives. Celebrations of Diana’s life will be scheduled in the Weston, Florida area and Des Moines, Iowa. Dates are still pending but are expected to be mid-November to mid-December. Small informal gatherings will also be held In Cozumel, Mexico and a visit to Diana’s sister and others in Colombia is planned for 2022.
August 30 officially marks the beginning of Cozumel’s 2021-2022 Public School year. This will be a flexible school year that may involve distance learning, in-class options on selected days of the week and/or daily in school classes when schools are ready to accept students.
Some schools begin today with distance learning. Others will make decisions this week when classes may start. We anticipate it will take several weeks after their decisions to accomplish needed repairs, cleaning, and teacher preparation, etc. Schools have been vacant for 18+ months during covid. Some schools need to install all new water pipes, repair damage caused by storms and/or replace items that have been stolen.
Distributing school back packs and supplies is one of Friends of Cozumel’s major annual efforts to support education for youth in kindergarten through university. Our goal is to support approximately 550-600 students from families in need. We are taking a “just in time” approach to giving supplies this year so the timing will be delayed until mid-to end of September or perhaps later. We don’t want the school supplies to be lost or families tempted to sell them to ease their economic situation.
Distribution will follow covid safety protocols . . . require masks, safe distance, and may restrict distribution to 1 or 2 representatives from each family rather than all the students coming to receive their supplies.
Call for volunteers: We are looking for island residents and visitors who will be here in the general timeframe of September 17 to October 3 to help distribute supplies. The distribution will be organized in 2 or 3 hour shifts and completed in 2-3 days. We are now creating a list of potential volunteers. Please send your name and contact information (phone #, email or Facebook private message info) to one of the following: Nelly Cervantes, 987-107-2244 OR Larry Pedersen US cell: 515-249-9241 via WhatsApp or text; OR Karen Pedersen via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Facebook private message.
Check back soon to learn about Friends of Cozumel’s scholarship program.
Friends of Cozumel volunteer Don Cox came up with a unique way to support our efforts – A two-tank dive package with Dive with Martin called ‘The Donnie’! Check out the Santa Rosa Wall and the C53, with the added benefit of helping the people of Cozumel. We are blessed to have him in our community.
Don took the video above, did the editing and voice over to produce the video – what a beautiful dive! He’s an avid diver and underwater photographer.
Covid cases are spiking here similar to many other locations. We remain in “orange” status with enforced limitations to reduce covid exposure to local families and visitors. Examples of precautions now in place: Everyone (including tourists) over the age of 2 are expected to wear masks indoors and outdoors except when exercising and eating/drinking. Only one adult family member may enter supermarkets. Organizations/businesses are limited to 30-50% of capacity depending on the type of business or organization.
Vaccines are being administered in a number of public places by age group but the long lines have discouraged many from getting vaccines. People age 60+ have had the opportunity to receive both vaccine doses. Younger age groups are anxiously waiting for the second dose.
Good news . . . we see modest signs of economic recovery including: increased number of visitors coming on flights for vacations, packed ferries bringing tourists for day trips from the mainland, limited number of cruise ships returning, etc. More restaurants are reopening a reduced number of hours or for takeout. Some shops close to the cruise ship ports are now open as well as some hotels. A few tour operators and selected other jobs are being hired but less skilled workers (the majority of the families we support) are still without work. The double edge sword is more visitors coming to the island = increased exposure especially from those who may not comply with local expectations to wear masks, etc.
Friends of Cozumel continues to provide:
Despensas (dry goods pantries) to 110 families monthly; 1,500 despensas since 4/2020
Expenses for Vida Abundante Church’s community kitchen for meals Mon., Wed. and Fri. for 200 families/650 family members; 40,000 meals served since 4/2020
Financial help for prescription medications with documentation from their doctor
Baby formula and ecological diaper kits for families with babies under age 2, and
Drinking water purification systems; delivered to 100 families since 4/2020
The weekly Community Closet has been temporarily suspended until we believe it is safe to open and maintain safe distance. When we reopen, a reduced number of families (5 at a time) will be invited to come and receive credit to select clothing, hygiene and home goods.
Friends of Cozumel is extremely blessed for the continued support of donors and volunteers. You are the ones that make all this possible. Thank you . . . Larry & Karen Pedersen
Kristin was an avid Friends of Cozumel volunteer and advocate for serving families in need. If you would like to help continue Kristin’s life of service, donations may be made to Friends of Cozumel, one of the memorial options designated by her family. A scholarship fund has been established in her honor to be awarded to students studying in medical, health or marine related careers. Or donors may designate their gift for “Families in Need” to provide medical treatment. Electronic donations may be made via PayPal or other options in this link: http://friendsofcozumel.com/your-help/how-to-make-a-donation/
Following is the Obituary from Kristin’s Celebration of Life service held in North Carolina on June 19, 2021. Other informal gatherings of Cozumel friends will be organized in the coming months.
Kristin Kay (Burns) Bowen
January 24, 1963 – June 08, 2021
Kristin was born in Royal Oak, MI to Leona and Billie Burns. She grew up in Southfield, MI with her brother William Richard Burns and graduated from Southfield Christian Academy. Following high school, she attended Olivet Nazarene College, where she met her future husband William A. Bowen. They were married on August 11, 1984 and lived in New Jersey before making their way to Greensboro, NC in 1988. A year later they had their first daughter Sara, followed by Mandy and Jake.
Kristin loved God and dedicated her life to His service at an early age. She introduced her Savior, Jesus Christ, to her children by reading them Bible stories and sharing her life experiences with them. Along with her faith, she treasured her family. She guided, counseled, prodded and cheered them on as they moved through school, sports and relationships. The family loves travel, scuba diving and sailing, and Kristin was great at planning and participating in those adventures.
After raising her family, Kristin fell in love with the people of Cozumel, Mexico. She was first drawn to Cozumel for the scuba diving, but soon joined up with Friends of Cozumel to serve the local islanders by exposing them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and by performing service projects including offering school supplies, clothing and shoes for school age children. Kristin served God with her heart, voice, hands and wallet. She gave regularly to her local church, Friends of Cozumel, and other missionaries including Rob Kimmons and David Carter, both serving overseas through Pioneers where they minister to people from Europe and Africa. In addition to serving others, for the last nine years of her life, Kristin owned and operated an industrial sales company with her husband, where she served as president and director of finance.
Kristin Kay Bowen, January 24, 1963 – June 8, 2021
She was a blonde force of nature that could make even the most serious-minded volunteer crack a rare smile. Kristin came to Cozumel regularly, toting her frequent flier weight limit in donations. She showed up ready to work at our various project sites, usually carrying her camera and a Barbie doll just for fun, because…well why not?
Kristin’s work with Friends of Cozumel began in 2010 when she visited Cozumel with 13 other family members on a cruise port-of-call. They combined their vacation with service work by delivering supplies needed for FOC’s school backpack project. Kristin returned to the island just a couple of months later when she and her parents volunteered for a mission week with FOC. And she kept coming back for more than a decade—often several times a year. Serious illness kept Kristin away this year, but she continued her financial support as well as her interest in FOC projects.
She passed away at home surrounded by family in Greensboro, North Carolina on June 8, 2021.
Kristin played an integral role as a supporter and mission volunteer helping people in need.
As a leader in Friends of Cozumel projects, she led by doing. She didn’t hesitate to jump in, often emerging from a long, hot day wearing paint and sawdust from a construction project or with sea salt dried in her hair from helping local children learn to snorkel. She donated and transported shoes to island children, helped distribute literally thousands of backpacks of school supplies, and even shopped the sales for affordable dresses for young women who otherwise would not have a gown for their quinceañera. She gave very generous donations to the construction of Vida Abundante church and community center.
“Kristin and her husband Billy have been great supporters as well as frequent donors,” said FOC Co-director Larry Pedersen. “We always ask how funds should be used and about four years ago, Kristin said ‘I see so many families that need medical help and don’t have any resources. I want some of the money to go for that type of aid.’ As a result, the Families In Need Fund was established and has grown.”
Friends of Cozumel continues to assist local families almost weekly with support for doctor consultations and medication.
“Five years ago, a local soccer player tore his ACL in a game and the family had no funds for an operation,” Larry said. “When Kristin learned about this, she immediately came forward and paid for the surgery. The family is forever grateful. That’s the kind of person she was—ready to step in and help without hesitation.”
Kristin could make people laugh. And she cared deeply. Her easy smile and love of the island people will be remembered by so many.
“Kristin’s spirit, enthusiasm and fun-loving nature has been an inspiration to all of us,” said FOC Co-director Karen Pedersen. “You couldn’t help but smile when you were around her. She left a lasting impression on everyone.”
We salute mothers and grandmothers on May 10 Mexico’s Mother’s Day. Mothers and grandmothers have been the glue that hold families together, especially during this past year. Their strength and resiliency is truly amazing.
Over half of the families Friends of Cozumel supports are single mothers or grandmothers. Many lost their jobs as housekeepers, waitresses, hotel workers or assistants working in the tourism as a result of COVID. They are doing whatever is necessary to feed their children and trying to teach them at home while keeping active kids inside their very modest rooms. Other families have a father/husband in the home but due to addictions (alcohol or drugs), some of these fathers are not a reliable source of financial support or engage in caring for the children so this also becomes a burden on the mothers.
Here are examples of two incredible women Friends of Cozumel supports. They always put their children first despite their own personal challenges.
Rosita is a spry grandmother in her late 60’s raising two teenage granddaughters both who have health issues and a grandson abandoned by their father and mother. Rosita is considered “too old” to hold a job locally so she gathered cans, plastics and cardboard daily to recycle and received a few pesos prior to COVID. When the island shut down with very strict curfews to ensure people remained in their homes, Rosita was no longer able to gather recycling or find odd jobs. Then she was a passenger on a moto involved in a bad accident that resulted in a back injury and 3-month recovery. She’s now to a point where she can gather recyclables again and is determined to support the children.
Cristina is a deaf, mute mother who does not use sign language and cannot read or write. We have developed a unique way to communicate with her. She is pictured here with 5 year-old daughter Evelyn. Belen, an older daughter will begin high school next fall. Her husband, Victor, has a part-time job as a waiter but his addiction to alcohol impacts his ability to support the family. Through the years Cristina has been the primary stability for the family working to make tortillas and the primary childcare giver.
Friends of Cozumel is providing small personal gifts for 50 mothers and grandmothers for Mother’s Day. Thanks to Volunteer Christian Builders Women’s Mission groups for making beautiful lined zipper make-up bags and other donors who have given us bags for make-up samples. The gifts include useful personal items like a fold-up nylon shopping bag, lotion, nail files, lip balm, a compact mirror and antibacterial gel along with this message (translated here) . . .
“On this special day, we hope you feel very dear (loved/cared for) and appreciated because you truly are. Happy Mother’s Day. The Lord bless you and Keep you. ”
Water systems that purify tap or well water to be safe for drinking continue to be a popular with local families. Recently we were able to deliver water systems to 14 families who have children in the CAM Primaria School. CAM Primaria serves elementary-age students with special needs. These families incur a lot of expenses caring for their children so not having to purchase purified water is a great financial savings and health benefit.
This week, we are receiving 40 more filters brought down by visitors. Our goal for the first two weeks in May is to make an 25 additional systems (13 more for CAM Primaria families; 10 other families that are on a waiting list; 2 extra)
We are very fortunate that the majority of items are available to be purchased locally. The filters are the only component that we bring in from the United States. Donors have already provided funds to purchase them. We only need people able to bring them to us. A package of 10 filters fills half of a rollerboard and weighs approximately 10 pounds. If you are interested in helping us out by bringing in some filters, contact Larry Pedersen at PEDERSENLL@HOTMAIL.COM or (515) 249-9241.
Supporting families in need during this past year has required us to modify our approach to mission efforts. Friends of Cozumel hosts Volunteer Thursdays every week. Island visitors, resident expats and locals interested in volunteering serve together in small teams. Language and cultural differences are not obstacles. There is a lot of pointing, laughing, guessing and learning as we work together.
Examples of typical Volunteer Thursday projects and the local families who benefit . . .
Interest continues to increase among local families in having water purification systems. The systems are made with two buckets and a ceramic charcoal filter that cleans impurities from tap or well water to produce safe drinking water. This is a significant $ savings for families because it eliminates having to buy purified drinking water and encourages them to stay hydrated for their health. We’ve been blessed by two non-profit organizations that funded materials for an additional 45 systems!
Friends of Cozumel frequently receives emails and texts from visitors as well as island residents expressing a desire to “build something” or assist us in a service project. During the past two months these volunteers have spent half-days cutting, sanding, staining or painting the wood bases and assembling the buckets and filters. As a result, 20 systems were delivered to local families in February. We are currently preparing 10 more systems that will be delivered in the coming two weeks and supplies are on the way for even more builds.
Chris staining parts prior to assembly
Rick and Steve installing filters into the buckets
Steve B. pre-drilling parts for the stand assembly
We are fortunate that most items necessary for the systems can be procured locally or purchased online. The filters are still purchased via Amazon and transported here by volunteers. Our goal is to have systems on hand and ready to be provided to families that want them.
Debi painted messages on the legs of the stands
Eight systems have filters installed and are being tested for leaks prior to delivery
Friends of Cozumel is continuing to focus on basic necessities of food, prescription medications, baby formula and ecological diapers as well as supporting the third generation (seniors) and those with special needs.
Families are also requesting support for these emerging needs:
Clothing, shoes, home goods—to fit growing children and/or replace home items
The initial “Armario Comunitario” (Community Closet) held February 1-2 as a pilot project was so successful that we have opened a temporary location (preview here) to continue addressing the first two emerging needs above of clothing/shoes, home goods and hygiene products. It is open at least once a week by appointment only. We enforce covid protocols (masks required, limit of two representatives per family over age 12, temperatures taken and antibacterial gel at entry, only 8 families invited per hour to ensure social distance).
The Community Closet is different than Gran Bazars we hosted in past years. It is by invitation only (not open to the public) for families who have all been vetted (identified as low resource families). Families receive credit coupons ($100, $200 or $300 pesos; approximately $5-$15USD) based on the number of people in the family. They can purchase addition items if they wish. The goal is to provide families the opportunity to select good condition second-hand items and/or inexpensive new items and hygiene products. All the items are donations priced at reasonable rates (Examples: good condition used t-shirts 10 pesos or about $.50USD; new t-shirts for 20 or 30 pesos about $1 – $1.50 USD; shampoo for 20 pesos, toothpaste for 10 pesos).
The Community Closet is staffed by local and/or visiting volunteers usually on “Volunteer Thursdays” but can easily be open other days.
Special thanks to the many donors who continue to give $ as well as “in kind” donations, especially during the past year when many families are out of work due to Covid. We often say “It takes a village. . .” This all happened (opening a temporary community closet for 2-3 months) from the idea to a reality in less than 24 hours. The owner of the property just two doors from our storage bodega deeply discounted a rental apartment as their part in supporting the community. One of our local leaders cleaned the space immediately; four visiting volunteers painted it; other volunteers transported the crates of items from the pilot project directly to the new location. We “hired” local parents without work to help lift/haul and organize everything. Opening a community closet was not in our plans. However, covid has provided us opportunities and challenges to serve the community in ways we hadn’t previously imagined.
Watch for future posts about purified drinking water systems. “Volunteer Thursday” events will continue now through April.
The Friends of Cozumel Community Closet was held in early evening with golden sunlight beaming in through the front door of Vida Abundante Church. Racks of donated second hand colorful clothing, crates of neatly paired shoes, and tables loaded with homewares and games were displayed with affordable prices for the eager participants. Some items, like blankets, were handmade by volunteers from the Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization to keep prices low and support the event. All families were screened beforehand, which permitted better access to staple items for some underserved members of the community. Participants were also provided with some credit coupons to purchase basic items.
The most amazing thing was just seeing how happy people were to be choosing items for themselves. The joy of expressing yourself by making a choice is fundamental to human happiness. The curiosity of examining an object and thinking, “Is this me?” or “Can I see this in my life?” This pure and innocent pleasure is wonderful to see, particularly when it is clearly appreciated because of its rarity.
Speaking of expressing yourself, one of the younger participants wore a mask accessorized with a silver chain that was very cool.
I noticed the men immediately picked up tools. One man had a framing hammer, and I asked if he planned to use it for work. He said that it would be useful for some small projects around the home, but his actual job was servicing tires. He then asked how to say his name, Jesus, in English. I told him, “it’s Jesus,” and was met with absolute incredulity until confirmed by other, more self-assured, volunteers. He laughed and examined some of the more curious items on the homewares table. There was a football shaped device for producing soothing white noise sounds which was interesting to explain. He shook his head and said, “so you’re telling me there’s not a clock in here at all?” I agreed that it seemed like an oversight.
The ladies tended to gravitate toward clothing. Unfortunately, the goods placed in the best light were mostly women’s undergarments, forcing your humble correspondent to avoid excessive prodding with camera and questions. Suffice to say, they seemed excited.
Finally, I spoke with Sami, a young Mexican volunteer adored by the Friends of Cozumel as much for her sunny disposition as her perfect English. She lamented the changes necessitated by the pandemic which have taken a toll on her educational experience. She is a star student at a good school, but it is impossible to really participate in a virtual classroom. She looks forward to traveling again to learn more languages.
I am also eager for the restrictions to subside, but, as I looked around the church at the orderly, socially distanced, and masked participants, I felt tremendously grateful to live in a community that can adapt and take care of itself, even in extraordinary circumstances.
Contributed by Eric Anderson, FOC Volunteer living in Cozumel
The initial Community Closet held February 1-2, 2021 described above by Eric was such a success that Friends of Cozumel has set up a temporary Community Closet for a couple of months in a rented space to continue distributing clothing, home goods and basic personal hygiene products. As of February 15, 104 families have participated benefitting 453 youth and adults. Total credit provided and used is $22,600 pesos to date (about $1,200 US). Families are allowed to purchase additional items beyond their credit and those earnings are used to benefit families in other ways like school scholarships, provide food pantry boxes, etc.
If you’d like to help Friends of Cozumel host more events like this, please consider visiting our donations page and following us on social media.
The economic, emotional and health impact of COVID has taken a toll on local families. The holidays will soon be a bit brighter for 725 youth and adults representing 165 families in need. Friends of Cozumel supported by many generous donors will sponsor a holiday project December 20-24 that includes three activities:
1.Family photos will be taken, printed and given to families in lucite frames. The families cherish these photos and proudly display them in their homes.
2. Gift shop for parents, grandparents and caregivers to select two gifts for each member of their family. Gifts are new clothes, shoes, accessory items and home goods like fleece blankets, dishes/silverware, grocery store shopping bags, hand tools, etc. All are practical gifts. In many cases, these are the only gifts they will receive.
3. Food to provide a special carryout meal on December 24 when families celebrate Christmas usually at midnight. Grilled chicken dinners and a special bag of “despensas” (groceries) will be distributed from Vida Abudante Church to families for take out to enjoy in their homes. This effort includes families who do not have work and receive meals as part of the “Belen Casa del Pan” ongoing community kitchen pastors Mariela and Salomón began serving in March. Seven teams of volunteers will deliver meals and despensas to families who do not have transportation or can not leave their homes.
Watch for photos in the coming week. Happy holidays with heartfelt THANKS to all our donors and volunteers who are bringing much needed joy and hope to these Cozumel families.
We’ve all heard it said time and again: “Don’t drink the water in Mexico.” This is a well-known fact. During the municipal water distribution process, contamination occurs due to minerals and bacteria in the water lines making it unsafe for visitors and locals to drink. The bottled water business is big in Cozumel as practically everyone relies on purified water for drinking. What we are seeing now, especially during COVID when money is tight, is parents are forced to make very difficult choices – feed their families vs. buying purified drinking water or foregoing prescription medicine they need resulting in many health issues.
A few years ago, a donor of Friends of Cozumel introduced us to a ceramic water filter with charcoal inside that purifies tap or well water to make safe drinking water. This system uses a pair of 5-gallon plastic buckets. Tap or well water is poured into the top bucket and runs through the filter to be purified; then drips into the bottom bucket. Families access the purified water from the spigot in the bottom bucket. Our volunteers build wooden stands to provide a platform for the system. The filters are available from multiple sources including Amazon and MercadoLibre.
The breakdown of costs (in pesos) looks like this:
$280 – Ceramic Water Filter ($14 USD needs to be replaced every 12 months)
$200 – 2 Plastic Buckets
$40 – Plastic spigot
$80 – Wood and materials to build stand
$600 – Total (At 20 pesos to $1 USD the total cost is $30 USD)
A typical family of four people use approximately 3-5 large bottles of water (garafones) per week at a cost of $10-$33 pesos each ($.50 – $1.65USD), depending where they buy it. Rather than purchasing water, families could use the savings to buy a kilo of tortillas, beans or one week of savings could equal the cost of prescription medicine to control blood pressure or diabetes. A $30 USD investment by a donor is a significant resource to provide a family safe drinking water for a year before the filter needs to be replaced.
We recently delivered these four water systems to local families and taught them how to regularly clean the filters:
This family does not have access to city water. They draw their water by hand from a well. The system ensures that the water is safe for all 14 family members.
Assembling and distributing water purification systems is a focus for our Friends of Cozumel volunteer efforts now through first quarter 2021. The Christian Scuba Divers Organization who recently visited Cozumel is funding an initial set of water systems.
Please contact us if you will be here in Cozumel between now and March 2021 and are willing to volunteer to help make the systems or if you are interested in donating money to support this effort.