Author Archives: Almendra Gutiérrez

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: 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, 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

Three Key Announcements Impacting Families

Three key announcements made by authorities recently impacting Cozumel families:

  • Stay-at-home restrictions will continue at least through the end of May (or longer).  Many had hoped the island would open to tourism June 1 but that is being delayed. 
  • Students will not return to classes for the remainder of this school year that ends July 17 for most public schools.
  • University of Quintana Roo, the public university on Cozumel, announced free summer and fall semester tuition.  

The governor is meeting with national tourism officials to reconsider tourism as an “essential” business. Our current situation includes:  nightly curfew from 7pm to 5am, restricted mobility to one person per vehicle/moto, leaving home only for essential jobs, food (groceries, carryout) or medical/health reasons.  

It is unknown if there will be government help to pay tuition required for public high school and/or uniforms or school supplies for students in all grade levels.  As a result, the Friends of Cozumel school supply project and scholarship program may be more important than ever.

Friends of Cozumel’s focus for this week includes: 

  • Providing food despensas for 25 families benefiting approximately 100 youth and adults of Vida Abundante Church, including supplies for five babies.
  • Handling special needs like feminine hygiene products.
  • Buying/packing despensas for distribution.  
  • Vida Abundante pastors continue to provide three prepared meals weekly for families in the broader community who don’t have work.

Again, it is thanks to generous donors that we are able to provide these services to the community. We, and they, are thankful for those of you that make this possible. 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

Good news from Cozumel

We’re on week 7 of stay-at-home and other strict health measures implemented here on the island. We’ve had our curfew lifted from 5pm to 7pm this week and the good news is that it is working. No additional cases have been reported for nearly two weeks on Cozumel. Although there may be many more unreported cases among the general population, data from health institutions are not showing an increase as of this posting. 

There is still a long way to go, but it is very encouraging to know that the restricted mobility, social distancing, mask requirements, limitation of one person per vehicle to do essential errands for food or medical reasons has made a significant positive difference in containing the Coronavirus.


We have been blessed with donors who have contributed financially or dropped off food/supplies to support families in need. Thanks to them 230 adults and children have benefited from support provided by Friends of Cozumel since March 30:  

  • Most of them have received food, cleaning and sanitizing supplies.
  • 6 received financial support for medication and/or transportation to doctor appointments.
  • 12 babies received formula, cereal, wipes or ecological diapers.
  • 2 out of work parents with special skills were employed to earn money for their extended family of 11.

Thanks to the community out-reach effort that has been facilitated by Vida Abundante church (whose recipients start lining up about 3 hours before the distribution time, respecting social distancing marked with cones, wearing masks and bringing their own carry-out containers), we have contributed to:

  • 456 family-size portions of prepared take home meals (benefitting 1,558 adults and children) for families out of work.  
  • In addition, the pastors’ family has distributed 215 kilos (450+ pounds) of fresh tortillas to the community donated by a local tortilla shop. 


We have also been collaborating with  Vida Abundante to facilitate a homework center to help students during Coronavirus. Although we haven’t maintained a count of students, a significant number of youth from kinder through university are regularly coming to the church to use the free internet access, laptops and/or copier to do homework assignments while school classes are cancelled.  


Janete is a mother of 4 children including a three-month old baby.  She and her husband are out of work with no other source of income to support their children.  They are a new family for Friends of Cozumel support and will be added to the school supplies distribution list this summer.    

We are so happy to share this update on the goings on in Cozumel. While times are tough for many, with the help of all of you, we feel privileged to help. 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

Medical help during Coronavirus

Enabling those who are most vulnerable to maintain their health during the coronavirus is critical. Our experience is that many families prioritize their most basic needs for food over healthcare. Sometimes we only discover they are not taking needed prescriptions or canceling critical medical appointments when we deliver food despensas to their homes. 

To better serve the community, we make a point to ask them about their health situation if we have developed a personal relationship with them over time. Thanks to generous donors, we have a modest health fund to provide prescription medication, transportation costs for those who need to go to the mainland to see specialists and for specific health diagnostic studies not covered by free government health services available to the general population. Below are some  examples of those receiving medical help during the coronavirus:

Teresa and daughter with despensas that Nelly delivered
  • Teresa has a rare blood disease that requires frequent travel to Merida for blood analysis.  She is a single mother of three; two teenage boys and her daughter pictured here.  Although Theresa’s health is currently stable; she isn’t able to work consistently as a result of the disease.  She qualifies for paid  medical consultations, but cannot afford the necessary travel. Thanks to donations, we are able to pay for transportation to the mainland.
  • Jhoana has a tumor in her throat (see the swelling at the base of her neck).  She, her teenage sister and two young cousins are being raised by their 70+ year old grandmother, Rosita, who has no steady source of income.  The children were abandoned by their parents years ago. Normally, Rosita gathers recycling to sell for a few pesos and searches for odd jobs.  Due to the stay-at-home restrictions she cannot search for ways to earn income. 
Jhoana and Rosita

The five of them live in a modest concrete room about 10’ x 6’ with little ventilation. Friends of Cozumel is providing food despensas, a special soft diet for Jhoana including nutrition supplement drinks because she cannot swallow solid food, transportation costs to Playa del Carmen to see a pediatric throat specialist and prescription medication to try to shrink the tumor rather than invasive surgery.  The good news is that a biopsy has shown the tumor is benign.  Rosita is easily confused and overwhelmed with managing Jhoana’s medical needs so they frequently miss appointments and follow-up.  

Special thanks to Nelly Cervantes, our Friends of Cozumel coordinator, for providing personal follow-up  and going to some appointments to ensure Jhoana is now receiving the medical help she needs.  Sometimes these special families just need a ”hand up” for a short time to get them on track.

  • Another young girl with severe asthma needs costly inhaler prescriptions monthly.  She is one of four children being raised by a single mother who normally has work as a maid.  She was able to pay for the prescriptions but is temporarily out of work since her employers are not working as tour guides for cruise excursions.   

Again, it is thanks to generous donors that we are able to provide these services to the community. We, and they, are thankful for those of you that make this possible. 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

Meals for those in need

90% of Cozumel’s economy is based on tourism.  Nearly all local families are directly or indirectly affected by the shutdown of tourism,  beyond the immediate health impact of COVID-19.  Many families are out of work or hours have been cut to part-time.  We don’t expect this situation to change until international flights have been restored and cruise ships are arriving on a regular basis, likely months from now.

 The church is located in the heart of Colonia Emiliano Zapata, a neighborhood with some of the highest rates of suicides, theft, addiction challenges and family issues on the island.

Centro de Restauración Vida Abundante church pastors, Salomon and Mariela, along with their three teenage sons (Jefte, Jabes and Salomon) initiated a breakfast program to support families out of work.  Although the church is closed for services and other activities, they are preparing and serving meals to those in the community.  None of the families participating are members of the church. The church is located in the heart of Colonia Emiliano Zapata, a neighborhood with some of the highest rates of suicides, theft, addiction challenges and family issues on the island.

Pastor Mariela on the meal program “We had a lot of sadness when we closed the church for the pandemic.  Sometimes at the time we don’t understand God’s plans until later.  We knew it was time to serve in another way in the midst of bad times (well, we have always known) but it hadn’t presented itself to this extent . . . “

Family representatives start arriving 3 hours before serving and patiently wait in line marked by cones respecting social distance guidelines.

Friends of Cozumel provides behind the scenes support by receiving donations, shopping for some meals and occasionally helping prepare meals to give the pastors a break.

Jabes and Pastor Salomon transport hot chicken sandwiches prepared by Friends of Cozumel volunteers.

3-4 meals are provided weekly for 20-30 families representing  about 120 persons on average for each of the meals.  Since March 30, they have served meals 16 days.  The budget has been raised to $1,300 pesos per day ( or $60 USD; about $0.50 per person).

Social distance guidelines are marked by cones outside the church, only one family member may come, must wear a mask and bring their own plate to take the food home. They arrive sometimes three hours before serving and patiently wait in line.

Pastors Mariela and Salomon serving sandwiches.

The church has received donations of 110 kilos (242 lbs) of fresh tortillas from a local tortilleria as well as a few other food donations, but the majority of the funding has come from donors who want to help the people of Cozumel.  At this time we have enough financial support to continue the meal program until the end of June. 

The government recently distributed food/supplies boxes to most (but not all) families so the meal program may be suspended temporarily for a short time when families receive government despensas so they can use the dry goods they received and to stretch our resources further for the meal program. 

Thanks for following along with our activities, and if you haven’t had the chance – read though our previous blog posts. Our site also features details on how to make a donation, or donate via PayPal

Ecological Diaper Program & Loaner Baby Equipment

We continue to support babies during Coronavirus with formula and wipes and have added support of two other babies, bringing the total of babies supported to 12. To ensure health and safety for the most vulnerable, we have been developing two additional programs: Ecological Diaper Program & Loaner Baby Equipment. 

Ecological Diaper Program

In February, Friends of Cozumel initiated a pilot program to provide ecological diaper kits to families with babies. Six families with babies of various ages are in the pilot program: 3 parents with older children and 3 new parents.

Diaper kits for newborns to 2+ years

Using cloth diapers isn’t a new concept.  However, the investment required to buy washable, reusable diapers is beyond what families with limited resources can afford.  Many of the families Friends of Cozumel supports only have funds to buy a small packages of disposable diapers or sometimes only a single diaper at a time for a few pesos at a local shop near their home.

Each diaper kit contains two commercially made leakproof, washable diaper covers that adjust for newborns to 2+ years and 18-24 soft flannel diapers that are folded in several layers to go inside the diaper covers.  The flannel liners can be washed and hung to dry rapidly in the island’s humid climate. 

Cost per kit is $20 US when volunteers make the flannel diapers (equal to buying an 84 pack of disposable diapers at Sam’s Club) or $30 US if we pay a local seamstress to buy the fabric, cut the liners and stitch around the edges (which provides an income to help support our seamstress’ family as her husband is out of work due to the suspension of tourism activities).

Even with only 6 babies in the pilot, it significantly reduces the number of diapers going into the landfill that won’t break down for a long time.  

Special thanks to Hettie Legg for bringing and donating the set of diaper covers from the US to start the program and Ilene Kendrick for sewing the initial set of 200 liners.

Loaner Baby Equipment

Baby Fernandita

In addition, and with the support of generous donors, we have started to provide loaner baby equipment. Four month old Fernandita received a loaner baby walker to learn to stand and walk this week. 

She also received a Pack’n Play to ensure her health and safety for sleeping and playing. She had been sleeping in a hammock, but that was becoming dangerous as she began to move around on her own.

Special thanks to Kandy Stahl and Chuck Long for donating baby equipment to low resource families several years ago.  This equipment has been loaned to benefit many babies  and rotated among families in need. 

Thanks for following along with our activities, and if you haven’t had the chance – read though our previous blog posts on the support that we are providing during the pandemic. If you can, please consider contributing Friends of Cozumel. Our site features details on how to make a donation, or donate via PayPal

Supporting Babies During Coronavirus

Hello fellow Friends of Cozumel and supporters. We are writing today with details on a new service that we are engaging in on the island. The economic impact of Coronavirus has created the need to support babies; or babies “at risk” without basic needs of formula, diapers and wipes. Many parents have been impacted by losing their jobs, and we have stepped in to help with the following:

  • We have been supporting 10 babies with basic needs of formula, ecological (cloth/washable) diapers and/or wipes.   
  • Parents of 6 of the 10 babies have received FOC scholarships; parents of the other 3 babies are members of Vida Abundante Church.
  • 1 is a new family with 4 young children whom we met this week. The father is out of work due to business closures during COVID-19.
Mama Blanch, Baby Fernanda & Edwin

Mama Blanch, Baby Fernanda, and Edwin are a young family struggling to make ends meet after Edwin was laid off from work at the Cozumel Airport due to COVID-19.  Blanch was the first in her family to graduate from Prepa (high school) several years ago. Many Friends of Cozumel volunteers and donors have known “Blanca” for years. She and Edwin have assumed the role of coordinators of her extended family’s decisions, resources, school needs and care for the grandparents.  They just made a bold move from living in a very cramped part of a room in the extended family’s rustic homestead on the transversal to a modest rental room in town. Fernanda will now have more space as she learns to stand and walk.

NAN1 and wipes provided by our donors

Formula is needed here by many babies because mothers can’t produce enough milk to breastfeed. This is a result of lack of a nutritional diet and adequate hydration. Formula contains the dietary supplements babies need to fully develop their immune systems and for healthy growth.  However, formula is very expensive and often costs more than a week’s wages for parents earning minimum wage. Thanks to generous donors, we’re able to provide formula and baby wipes.

Coming soon… News about ecological diapers Friends of Cozumel is providing for babies. We’ll keep you posted!

Helping the most vulnerable with basic needs

Elsa Marina Maldonado

Friends of Cozumel is focused on helping the most vulnerable families with basic needs of food and medicine. Highest priorities include:
• Seniors who don’t have family to support them
• Single parents out of work
• Persons with serious health conditions who need medication or specific foods to boost their immune system
• Families with special needs/disabilities
• Babies in need of formula, diapers, etc.

Elsa was all dressed up and eagerly waiting to receive despensas at her home.  She and her husband are in their 70’s. They do not have a pension, regular income or family to help them.  Their only source of money comes from walking the streets and picking up bottles/cans to recycle and receive a few pesos each day.  Staying at home means they cannot be self-sufficient.

Cristina and Evelyn

Mama Cristina and 5 year-old daughter, Evelyn, appeared at our gate over the weekend to ask for help because they had no food.  Cristina is deaf and mute. Children are not supposed to be away from home but Evelyn came to communicate on behalf of her family of five.  They received despensas and a gift card to use at Chedraui grocery store. Victor, Cristina’s husband, lost his job as a waiter when restaurants closed.  Later that day we received a phone message from Victor explaining he was very grateful for help and he didn’t come because he was embarrassed to ask for help (again).  

During the two weeks March 22 – April 4 Friends of Cozumel helped 37 families (98 people) with food, medicine and/or temporary work to earn money.  Thanks to many donors who are making these efforts possible.   

There has also been some great news – This week the government began distributing boxes of food despensas to families in their homes using a grid approach street by street.  It is unknown if there will be enough resources for everyone on the island but we are encouraged as we see live news coverage and read messages from families we know personally.  We may be able to suspend providing food for a while and will begin again as needed.   

Thanks again for your support and stay tuned as we report on conditions in the community. 

Serving during “Social Distancing”

It’s quiet here on the island.  No cruise ships, few (if any) vacation visitors and many part-time residents have returned to their home country.  Closure of the port, beaches, bars, many non-essential businesses, schools, churches, restaurants (except for take-out) and a dramatic reduction of flights, ferry/cargo services are resulting in soaring unemployment in this tourism based economy.  Night curfews are being enforced.  Families are expected to stay home unless they are working or need to go out for food, supplies or medical treatment.

We see a “good news” story amid the grim reality of COVID-19 even though the initial phases are just now beginning to impact Cozumel.  The spirit of local people is truly amazing.  Of course they are concerned about the health and well-being of their family.  However, they are resilient, value time spent with family during this stay at home period, focus on what they do have vs. what they don’t have and are willing to help/share what little they have with others. 

The need to support families now is greater than anything we’ve seen in recent years, including past severe hurricanes because people knew once the hurricane was “over” the rebuilding could begin.  The uncertainty of the COVID-19 timeframe and the impact is unsettling.  Friends of Cozumel has identified 5 ways we can help families by providing:

  • “Despensas” of food, cleaning and disinfectant supplies.  The government has announced their intent to help all families with basic food needs in April.  The supplies FOC is providing will help bridge the gap between now and implementation of the government program.
  • Baby formula, wipes and ecological/reusable cloth diapers (a new initiative).
  • Medication and transportation financial assistance to required medical appointments on the mainland.  Limited to families we currently support and does not include $ to pay for treatments/operations.
  • Temporary project work with modest wages for selected local individuals to support their families (i.e. sewing, basic carpentry, sorting/organizing donations normally done by our volunteers).
  • Computers, internet access and printing services (free) to students for online learning in collaboration with Vida Abundante church.

Our weekly goal is to help 5-10 families impacting an average of 30+ family members.  Priorities include helping families with the greatest need:  single parents out of work; families with special needs, disabilities and/or ongoing health issues; seniors whose families cannot support them during this time, etc.  We are working quietly “behind the scenes” one-on-one to deliver food and supplies in a way that demonstrates social distancing and educates families.  We do not have the capacity to take on a major new initiative to help masses of people in need but we’re confident the steps identified above will make a positive difference in enabling some families to survive and thrive with basic necessities during this time of uncertainty. 

Thank you to donors and volunteers who have contacted us and offered to help.          If you would like to contribute to this effort click here