Author Archives: Almendra Gutiérrez

Celebrating Mothers & Grandmothers

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 and one of her granddaughters

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 and Evelyn

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.  ”

Numbers 6:24

Community Closet Discoveries

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

Results

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.

Bringing hope and holiday joy to Cozumel families

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:

Family photos being given to the community

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.

Pastors Salomón and Mariela

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.

Water purification systems help families stay healthy when money is tight

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:

Jose Pech water system

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.

Christian Scuba Divers Organization leaves a lasting impact

2020 has been a year of many challenges, changes as well as unexpected blessings.  When COVID-19 caused Grand Cayman to close to tourism, the Christian Scuba Divers Organization came to Cozumel last month to dive and to serve the community. The organization’s 20+ volunteers invested parts of three days serving families in need. They provided generous “in-kind” and financial donations as well as hours of volunteer service.

Results included:

  • Bought, assembled and delivered 85 “despensas” (food pantry boxes)
  • Assembled 40 “mini despensas” for emergency food supplies to have on hand
  • Assembled 20 first aid kits
  • Made 100 fleece blankets for distribution before Christmas
  • Prepared 500+ sandwiches to distribute over two days as part of the community kitchen serving meals to families without work and donated $s to fund 10 weeks of community kitchen meals
  • Grilled 500+ hotdogs and provided snacks to representatives of families during showing of two sessions of Christian education films
  • Painted passageway at Vida Abundante Church
  • Applied finish to wood stands for water filtration systems to be delivered to family homes
  • Donated gas grill, 4 griddles and two large electric roasters to use in community kitchen to serve meals to families out of work
  • Donated clothing, school supplies and other items to benefit children
  • Distributed 60 pair of reading glasses and donated over 240 additional pairs of reading glasses plus sunglasses for future distribution
  • Donated Christian evangelism booklets 
  • Donated 8 wireless microphones for services and educational programs

The impact of this group’s donations and volunteer service will benefit families through the end of 2020 and in 2021.  Helping in a large way like the diver’s group or small gestures made by an individual or family is very much appreciated. Together we CAN make a difference.  

Thank you ~ Larry & Karen Pedersen

Christian Scuba Divers Organization lends a helping hand to Cozumel familes

Volunteers gathered at Vida Abundante Church

Friends of Cozumel volunteers and members of the Worldwide Christian Scuba Divers Organization gathered at Vida Abundante Church last month to prepare and deliver supplies to the communities of San Miguel. The church was filled with despensa boxes of food and cleaning supplies. In addition, first aid kits were included in this round of donations, which were especially welcomed by recipients.

Volunteers from the Worldwide Christian Divers Organization varnishing water jug stands.

While some volunteer delivered food pantry boxes, another group of volunteers varnished wooden stands to hold drinking water systems. The extra attention will help ensure that these staple furnishings remain beautiful and functional for many years.

When the donation drop-offs were complete, we reconvened and switched into sandwich production mode. Over 250 sandwiches were prepared for the pastors to distribute as part of the community kitchen meals for families without work. It was quick and pleasant work with so many cheerful volunteers.

The hurricane season is on the way out and the skies are clearing. The need remains great, especially as the weather becomes colder (yes, even in Cozumel), so please visit our donations page or share this blog post with your network.

Heartfelt thanks from Jose’s family

Jose Pech family and Elena

Jose (at right) and his multi-generation family extend their heartfelt thanks to our donors for providing food for their family.  They were eager to have their photo taken and gave us permission to share the following information with you.

Jose is a proud single father who is struggling to support all ten members of his extended family including his mother (standing next to Jose), his children, his sister (single mother; center back row) and her children.  We recently met Jose’s family through the recommendation of Elena (local volunteer at left wearing a mask).    

They live in two very modest structures.  The concrete room to the left has a partial cement floor.  The rustic wood pole structure on the right has a dirt floor.  They feel very fortunate to have electricity.  Their only source of water is a well on the side of the lot where they pull up the water they need by hand in in a bucket.  Their home frequently floods during tropical storms. 

Jose Pech family home

On a recent home visit one of the visiting volunteers who helped deliver food “despenses” (pantry boxes of dry food) commented “It is amazing that everyone seems so happy and appreciative despite their living conditions”.  

How are we helping Jose’s family?  Through generous giving by donors, we are providing them:

  • Food box monthly that will last this family one meal a day for about a week.  Jose is the only wage earner so the food supplements his earnings.  
  • Next week they will receive a simple water purification system made by Friends of Cozumel volunteers. The carbon filter will purify the well water so they will have safe drinking water at no cost.  
  • Basic school supplies for the school age children.  
  • A set of ecological (cloth) diapers for the baby.

Jose’s family is just one example of many who are benefitting from donor support.  Thank you! 

Scholarships Key to a Better Future

Enabling students to continue their education this year despite families being out of work is critical for them, their families and the community.  

Scholarship recipients serving as distribution volunteers.
  • 650+ Students from families in need received “becas” (scholarships) of basic school supplies for distance learning this fall.  
  • Additional supplies (backpacks, paper products and specialty items) will be distributed when classes resume in schools.

Friends of Cozumel offers a financial scholarship program to assist selected students in prepa (high school) and universidad (college). 37 students received scholarships; 21 prepa (high school) and 16 college students.    

  • All high school and public university students are required to pay tuition of approximately 1,300 pesos ($65USD) per semester, plus books, copies, etc. 
  • Private schools are significantly more expensive.    
  • On-line learning is an additional expense this year.  Most families did not have home internet access.  However, scholarships are being used to purchase internet service.   
  • Nearly all the prepa scholarship recipients will be the first in their families to complete high school.  It is a key milestone that improves their employment opportunities and helps families become self-sufficient.
  • We have seen a significant increase in the number of young women continuing their education over the years.  This year the number of girls in high school is greater than boys.  
  • University scholarship recipients are equally split between young men and women.  They are pursuing careers in medical forensics, business, teaching, psychology, nursing, vetinary medicine, physical therapy, food service, archeology and architecture.
Dr. Nuri Caravajal, scholarship recipient and volunteer

Special congratulations to Dr. Nuri Caravajal, who graduated from med school and recently completed a year of serving communities in the Yucatan. Dr. Nuri is studying for entrance exams for her residency and plans to pursue a specialty in pediatrics. She was one of the initial scholarship recipients and is a long-time Friends of Cozumel volunteer.  

Scholarship recipients are encouraged to serve as volunteers giving back to the community.  Pictured above are three scholarship recipients who served as volunteers distributing school supplies in August:  Salomón (left-secundaria/middle school), Jefte (center—architecture university student) and Jessica (right—prepa/high school). 

Interested in learning more or giving to the scholarship program? Contact Karen or Larry Pedersen; pedersenkj@hotmail.com or pedersenll@hotmail.com   

Support During Hurricane Season

Pastor Salomon delivering to a family who’s house was still flooded after Hurricane Delta.

Food distribution teams completed deliveries to vulnerable families already suffering from the effects of two major storms and the coronavirus pandemic. Friends of Cozumel continues to channel donations into vulnerable communities to alleviate food insecurity and to improve childrens’ education outcomes. 

Pastors Mariela and Solomon splashed through ankle-deep water last Wednesday afternoon to greet the gracious recipients. “It is a big help,” one man said, accepting the donation box. “Ever since the virus, work has gone down,” he explains. “There is sometimes work as a cleaner, but that’s it.” As we leave, the pastors explain that this man walks several miles each morning to eat breakfast at their church. 

All of the volunteers are happy to do their part, but the need is only increasing as disasters pile up. Each delivery was met with hungry neighbors asking for information about the program.

Thank you for your interest in our charitable efforts on the island and please consider making a donation on our page how to make a donation or via PayPal.

– Eric Anderson

Masks Make Economic Impact

Thanks to a small group of generous donors, Elena’s family is working furiously so they can feed everyone in their family of 11—at least for now. That wasn’t always the case for this family and it still isn’t the norm for everyone in Cozumel. 

Elena at the sewing machine

Elena recently shifted the focus of her home-based sewing business to make beautifully embroidered cubrebocas (face masks). But even though wearing masks is required in Cozumel, few people can afford food, let alone the purchase of anything else. So Friends of Cozumel volunteers helped widen her market. They told her story to some kind hearted folks willing to purchase a mask. Elena’s business has ramped up and now her entire family helps make masks to keep hunger at bay. They’ve even been able to purchase more fabric to keep their business going.

Why has hunger become one of the most pressing issues in this beautiful vacation destination?

It’s because Cozumel’s economy is dependent on tourism. In fact, the island typically welcomes dozens of cruise ships with up to 80,000 visitors each week in high season. But the visitors stopped coming with the onset of the pandemic. Jobs were lost and people soon grew desperate for food. 

Several community kitchens were started by local volunteers, offering as much food as their donations could buy. One of those efforts is sponsored by Friends of Cozumel—the community kitchen based in Vida Abundante Church. They provide a meal to up to 200 people three days a week. Friends of Cozumel also provides despensas for families in crisis—boxes of essential food such as rice, beans, pasta and soup. In some cases, mothers cannot produce enough milk to nurse their babies due to their own meager diet, so cans of formula powder are also provided by Friends of Cozumel. Elena’s family has three babies that require formula.

The recent effort to sell Elena’s masks also stimulated enough additional donations to Friends of Cozumel to provide about 600 meals at the Vida Abundante community kitchen, 43 despensa boxes—each providing enough for a family of four to have one meal a day for a week, and three large cans of formula for hungry babies.

The moral of this story? Your one small act of kindness matters. So wear your mask, and reach out your sanitized hand to help someone else. Whether it’s in your own community or in one you hope to visit one day, you will make a difference. 

– Phyllis from Nebraska

Preparing For Distance Learning During Coronavirus

Cozumel students have now started the school year with distance learning.  They are accessing classes in various ways depending on their particular school and level:  

  1. Televised classes are offered on several cable channels
  2. Short learning videos with homework assignments via a cell phone application WhatsApp
  3. Via computer online
Modified school supply packets distributed this year

The challenge for many families with very limited resources is the reliance on some form of technology with access to cable TV and/or internet that most do not have in their homes. 

Friends of Cozumel modified our school supply distribution this year to provide the basic resources students need now to do distance learning from home  (one notebook, basic supplies like pens, pencils, sets of colored pencils, rulers, etc. packaged together).  The rest of the supplies like backpacks, more notebooks, specialty items, and paper products will be distributed later when/if students return to in-person classes at the schools.

This year’s distribution process was significantly modified: 

Instructions sent to participants
  • One representative per family vs. all the children coming
  • Social distancing guidelines observed as they arrived as well as inside the church
  • Temperatures taken
  • Shoes sanitized
  • Hand gel at entrance
  • Face masks mandatory

A clear set of instructions was sent to participants detailing the requirements of this year’s distribution process. This process was designed to keep volunteers, hosts and participants as safe as possible.

The volunteers showed great resilience, many were parents of students as well as prepa/university students who receive scholarships from Friends of Cozumel.

The largest distribution was on August 16 & 17th to about 430 students but we are still involved in providing basic packets to families in need because we made up approximately 70 extra packets. In addition, a total of 135 students in CAM primaria and CAM secundaria schools will also be receiving basic supplies.

Watch for future posts sharing how we are helping families overcome challenges of how to access distance learning. 

If you’d like to help us provide school supplies and basic necessities to the community, go to our page how to make a donation or via PayPal.

Dispensa Distribution During Coronavirus

Friends of Cozumel has been delivering dispenses–essential food items–to many families in need throughout the pandemic. Volunteers made deliveries today to the homes of 25 families and the pastors of Vida Abundante church and Centro de Autismo distributed dispensas to several additional families.

Victor, Cristina and their girls met two Friends of Cozumel volunteers outside their three-room cement block house, smiling and excited for visitors. They took us inside and asked us to sit and visit in their main living area. The only furniture in the room was a dresser, refrigerator and a small stand that used to hold a television. The bed that filled the room at one time had been discarded when it got wet and moldy. They still had electricity for now, Victor explained as he made the sign of the cross. He prayed that it wouldn’t be shut off since their payment was overdue. A small fan provided the only bit of relief from the heat.

This family’s refrigerator was provided by Friends of Cozumel several months ago.

In addition to basic food and cleaning supplies, we brought the family four plastic stacking chairs, a small square table so their girls would have a place to do their school work and a packet of school supplies for each girl. Evelyn is starting kindergarten and Behlen is in middle school.  But Victor explained that learning would be difficult. Classes are still not meeting in person due to Covid-19, so students are supposed to tune into lessons on television and send assignments to teachers using WhatsApp. But in this case, the family television is in a pawn shop and their internet was turned off when they couldn’t pay the bills. They didn’t know how the girls would access their school work. 

Work is scarce. The island has been hit hard since the economy is dependent on tourism, No cruise ships and very few land based visitors led hotels, restaurants, attractions and their suppliers to release employees or make drastic cutbacks on hours and salaries. Victor said he made 100 pesos that day at his job as a waiter. That’s equivalent to about $5 US.

The dispensas provided by Friends of Cozumel will feed the family for a few days.

“We don’t have food. We can’t buy drinking water,” Victor said. “Muchas gracias from my family from all my heart for your very good help at this moment.”

– Phyllis from Nebraska

Below are some photos from this week’s dispensa distribution. Thank you to everyone who made this possible.

If you’d like to help us provide school supplies and basic necessities to the community, go to our page how to make a donation or via PayPal.

School Supply Distribution 2020

School supply distribution was a little different this year. Basic details about the upcoming school year remain hazy, social distancing requirements demanded greater coordination, and the need has been more extreme than ever. As always, Karen and Larry led the multi-day effort which took place at Vida Abundante Church. With their organizational experience and the help of steadfast volunteers, the Friends of Cozumel overcame the challenges of the pandemic for another flawless event.

Pastors Mariela and Solomon made sure that all participants followed the safety guidelines arranged by the team. A single representative from each family arrived one-by-one, presented their invitation and had their temperature checked before proceeding inside to register and pick up supplies. The registration tables even had plastic dividers. It was very safe and the church is looking great.

The parents who picked up the supplies for their children were all grateful for the help and told us about their young learners’ aspirations. Astronomers, English teachers, and nurses to name a few. We look forward to seeing them grow in the years to come.

You can see pictures of the happy recipients, volunteers, and Solomon Jr. operating the temperature gun below.

– Almendra Gutiérrez

If you’d like to help us provide school supplies and basic necessities to the community, go to our page how to make a donation or via PayPal.

Blessed to be a blessing

A few days ago, I received a message via WhatsApp on my phone from a local mother:  

Rosa with her 4 children

“Hola buenas tardes disculpa la molestia pero quisiera saber si me podrían ayudar con despensa por favor si necesito para mis hijos.”

“Hello, good afternoon.  Forgive me for bothering you but I would like to know if you can provide me assistance with a food box please. I need it for my children.” 

Rommel showing off his new face mask. We purchases face masks made by a local mother for families that can’t afford to buy this protection

The mother (Rosa) is a single parent with 4 children ages 7-14. She makes a living cleaning homes but with the local economy this type of work is not to be found. The people that live on this island are very proud and most would prefer to be working and to earn a living and not have to rely on donations. Like most parents, their priority is the children. Rosa and other parents like her are very gracious and appreciative to be able to feed their children during these times.

Last Sunday I heard a message about “Choosing self-giving love over self-seeking living” and couldn’t agree more. Because of the wonderful support we’ve received from so many people we’ve had the resources to continue supporting the proud people of this island.

“Blessed to be a blessing,” my brother-in-law is frequently heard saying this phrase. It has never held as much meaning as it does right now for me here in Cozumel. I feel “very blessed” to be in a position to serve others in this time of need.

– Larry Pedersen

Thank you for reading and supporting the people of San Miguel de Cozumel, Mexico. To donate go to our page how to make a donation or via PayPal.

How are families coping during Coronavirus?

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

– Mother Teresa

Vida Abundante Pastors Salomon and Mariela who have worked tirelessly for months providing prepared meals for families out of work described the situation (translated):

“There are people who come to line up from 3:30 a.m. because they think there may not be enough food for their family. The need for food is getting stronger every day and many people are living in despair. We pray for all of them. Many get sick NOT from Covid-19 but from pressure, stress, distress, despair, sadness and so on because of the situation they are living through.”

Friends of Cozumel volunteers have purchased food, assembled in crates and delivered to ~170 family homes, many of whom do not have a way to get to food banks or a community kitchen. Vida Abundante serves three prepared meals per week in addition to distributing fresh tortillas several times a week. Meals served through this week total ~1,900 family portions (serving 8,200 individuals) plus ~2,500lbs of fresh tortillas donated by a local shop.

Some families are coping by:

  • Moving in with other families to share food and expenses
  • Selling clothing and/or furniture for funds to go to the mainland in search of work
  • Offering to do ANY type of work, even small jobs of just a few minutes in exchange for food or money
  • Selling plants, food, etc.
  • Offering home delivery service for tips, 10 or 20 pesos (50 cents or $1USD)

Donations received to date will last through the end of August. However, the basic needs for food and medicine will continue at least through the end of 2020. Even small donations go far here helping to relieve hunger. Thank YOU to all our donors for supporting the people of San Miguel de Cozumel, Mexico. To donate go to our page how to make a donation or via PayPal.

Educational Support in Uncertain Times

How do we help students continue their education when so much is unknown? Being flexible and willing to change what, when and how we provide support is the key this year. 

One thing we DO know – More families need help this year due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Friends of Cozumel is making these six changes:

  1. Increase the number of students to receive school supplies to 600-650. 
  2. Reduce face-to-face contact with families. Inscripcion/registration is in process now via WhatsApp and phone calls. Distribution of supplies will respect social distance guidelines with supplies pre packed to reduce distribution time.
  3. Postpone distribution of school supplies from July to mid-August if schools open in August or September. If classes are online, may postpone until a later date.
  4. Purchase supplies locally and online using cash donations vs. receiving “in kind” donations of supplies brought by visitors. The dramatic reduction of tourists the past five months has resulted in us seeking other ways to gather school supplies.
  5. Help families access information and register online for government provided scholarships to pay prepa (high school) tuition. UQROO (local public university) is offering free tuition for the fall semester. These two federal programs encourage students to continue their education and will impact the type of financial support we offer through the Friends of Cozumel scholarship program.
  6. Rely on local volunteers vs. visiting mission volunteers.  Although we have a small core team of experienced volunteers who hope to travel here in August to help distribute supplies, we will rely primarily on local volunteers to carry out this year’s efforts.    

Thanks to the generous donations that we have received this year, we are able to increase the number of students we serve by approximately 20%.   


Thank you for reading and supporting the people of San Miguel de Cozumel, Mexico. To donate go to our page how to make a donation or via PayPal.

Emerging Needs During Coronavirus

We are often asked “What are the greatest needs?”. The most basic need continues to be food for families out of work. Reflecting on the past several months, we have experienced three special emerging needs:

Santiago, Candy Chac Estrella’s baby, eating a banana he received as part of despensas FOC provided for their family.
  1. Support the very young (newborns to two-years) and older persons in their families (age 60+; referred to as third generation who tend to have more health issues). Special needs include:
  • Economical and ecological alternatives to disposable diapers, adult incontinence and feminine hygiene products 
  • Baby formula, cereal and wipes
  • Special diet foods for those with diabetes or other health conditions like soft fruits and vegetables 
  1. Temporary financial help for prescriptions and/or transportation for treatment by specialists off the island like asthma inhaler meds, prescriptions for tumors, for dental pain and antibiotics until patients can schedule dental appointments; blood pressure pills, etc.
  1. An alternative way to cook so families without a stove can prepare food.  Lack of work has caused families to move to smaller, less expensive rooms without cooking facilities. More women and children are fleeing abusive home environments to relocate to safe spaces and have no way to cook. Families who normally build small cooking fires outside can’t do so during the rainy season. The best long-term solution is to provide families with a modest gas stove top and tank but they lack the funds to purchase a tank, aren’t able to save money for gas fills and it isn’t easy to move.  
One burner hot plates purchased to give families who need a way to cook.

We have purchased a supply of one-burner electric hot plates for those families that use little electricity. Families who do not have their own electricity, usually have an extension cord from a neighbor they can use for a short time. We have given two of these the past two weeks.  Also needed are basic cooking equipment so we gladly accept good condition small used pans, skillets, utensils, plates, glasses, etc.

Thank you for reading and supporting the people of San Miguel de Cozumel, Mexico. To donate go to our page how to make a donation or via PayPal

COZUMEL: Current Status during Coronavirus

Cozumel’s current status (without widespread testing) as of June 17, 2020:

  • 64 Positive cases
  • 35 Recovered
  • 26% hospital occupancy
  • 14 deaths

The island is currently in “orange” status, meaning selected businesses/organizations can operate at 25-30% capacity. Public beaches, bars, schools are closed and medium or large group gatherings are not allowed. There is a nightly curfew 9pm until 5am. Although there are frequent announcements and changes regarding restrictions, generally the governor evaluates the status weekly based on # of cases and readiness to move to “yellow” status when Cozumel can further re-open for tourism and employment.

Meanwhile, businesses and organizations are preparing their facilities and training employees to comply with COVID-19 protocols. For example, Vida Abundante church pastors have participated in certification training and began services on Sunday, June 14 for a limited number of attendees.

We are very blessed with generous donations that have resulted in the following impact from March 15 – June 15:

Pastora Mariela preparing food at Vida Abundante
  • 97 food “despensas” (supply) deliveries benefitted 480 people
  • 21 deliveries of formula, cereal, ecological diapers and/or wipes support 12 infants
  • 12 medical expenses were provided for prescriptions and transportation to appointments
  • 1,114 family size portions (benefitting 4,337 persons) of prepared food have been distributed by Vida Abundante pastoral family. They are providing this take-home service three times per week. Families who are out of work may send one representative. The number of families coming has increased 2.5 times in the past three months and they begin lining up at 5:30am respecting social distancing protocols.
  • 563 kilos (1,240lbs) of tortillas donated by a local tortilla shop have been distributed by the pastors
  • Free internet access, use of laptops and printer/copier is provided at Vida Abundante to support students’ homework

Watch for future postings about special needs that are emerging during the coronavirus. To donate go to our page how to make a donation or via PayPal

School Supply Needs – Helping families during Coronavirus

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 

Nelson Mandela

Out of work Cozumel families desperately need help with school supplies to enable children to continue their education. We hope Cozumel students will be able to return to classes in August or September. The timeline depends when the island achieves “green” status (100% open). 

Friends of Cozumel plans to help 565+ students kindergarten through university with backpacks and basic school supplies. All students are from families in need; 25% of the students have various types of special needs.

If you or someone you know will be traveling to Cozumel this summer and could bring any of the following supplies, it would be greatly appreciated. Be sure to keep the receipts to show Customs officials if they ask about the value of the goods.

Top 5 school supplies needed by August 15, 2020 include the following items: 

We’ve included hyperlinks if you’re an Amazon Prime member to great buys.

Interested in helping after August 15th? We collect school supply donations year-round for needs that occur during the school year and for distribution each summer. If you or others you know are coming to Cozumel during the next year you can…

  1. 1. Volunteer to be one of our “School Supply Super Shoppers” by July 1st.   We will send alerts weekly during the “back to school” season via email for the best buys in various US stores. Send your name and email address via Facebook private message or email to Larry Pedersen: pedersenll@hotmail.com. Your contact information will only be used for the shopping alerts.
  2. Help us identify who may travel to Cozumel and be willing to transport supplies… It could be small items tucked in a backpack, corner of a checked bag or a separate bag of supplies. Any help is appreciated.  Send Larry (see above) the following information:  Name, US/Canadian phone number and/or electronic contact info (email, Facebook and/or WhatsApp); and arrival/departure dates. 
  3. Or make a financial donation to buy supplies locally or order/ship to visitors who are coming.

In our corner of the world here in Cozumel, we’ve seen how supporting youth to continue their education makes a huge positive difference in their lives and directly impacts families to become self-sufficient. To donate go to our page how to make a donation or via PayPal

Salute to local volunteers during Coronavirus

Our Friends of Cozumel local volunteers are truly amazing. They all continue to help us identify families with the greatest needs, assemble and/or deliver food despensas, baby supplies and health needs.  Each of them are impacted by being out-of-work or significantly reduced income so they have had to create other ways to support themselves and their families.

In this post, we would like to give special thanks to:

Pastora Mariela (L), Elena (C) and Maria (R)

Pastora Mariela, Elena and Maria

  • Vida Abundante Pastors Mariela and Salomon make and serve meals 3+ times a week to families who are out of work benefitting 150-200 youth and adults. They also serve the community by helping Friends of Cozumel deliver despensas and assist families with health needs. 
  • Elena is a mother and grandmother of her extended family of 11. She is our sewing instructor and started a home based sewing and embroidery business. As a result of Coronavirus, none of the six adults in their family are employed so they have no steady income.  However, they are all working together to make beautiful embroidered masks, promoting online and providing home delivery.
Embroidered masks made by Elena and her family
  • Maria normally cleans homes for multiple clients but her work is now reduced to two ½ days weekly. She and daughter, Sami, are a huge help in identifying and delivering food to families.
Sami with Anilu and baby

Sami

  • Sami, a junior in high school, has been a Friends of Cozumel volunteer for years. She assembles and delivers despensas. Sami is bi-lingual, a great communicator and relates well with young mothers near her age as well as seniors.
  • Photo was taken several months ago before wearing masks was mandatory

Cheesecakes for sale

  • Selling cheesecakes is a new home-based business for Carla during the stay-at-home period. Carla is the Director of Centro de Autismo, speech therapist for CRIM and CAM primaria schools and mother of 5 year old twin girls. She frequently checks in with us (Karen and Larry Pedersen) to see if we need help personally as well as delivers despensas.

Involving more local volunteers is a goal for Friends of Cozumel. We are honored to work side-by-side with the community leaders highlighted above.  We see a very encouraging trend with more adults and teens of the families Friends of Cozumel supports offering to be volunteers. Many of them are not in a position to give donations but they are very willing to share their time to help others in their community.

Thank you for reading and supporting the people of San Miguel de Cozumel, Mexico. To donate go to our page how to make a donation or via PayPal