Diana’s Smile: Honoring Diana Marcela Pedersen Vance, Sept. 16, 1987-Sept. 16, 2021

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 friendsofcozumel@outlook.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.  

Back to School Plans 2021

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:  pedersenkj@hotmail.com or Facebook private message. 

Check back soon to learn about Friends of Cozumel’s scholarship program.

Donate By Diving

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.

Dive ‘The Donnie’ with Dive With Martin

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.

Book by emailing reservations@divewithmartin.com and Don Cox will donate $20 to FOC for every boatload that signs up.

Cozumel Covid Update

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:

Grandmother and grandaughter with their despensa
  • 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

In Loving Memory . . Kristin Kay Bowen Jan 24, 1963–Jun 8, 2021

Kristin Bowen

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. 

Special Tribute To A Supporter Like No Other:

Kristin Kay Bowen, January 24, 1963 – June 8, 2021 

Kristin loved supporting the children of Cozumel
Kristin always brought her Barbies as traveling companions.

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. 

Kristin working on chairs on her first mission trip with FOC
Painting tables and chairs for Centro de Autismo

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.” 

Taking inventory of school supplies
Helping with shoes during school supply distribution

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


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.

Volunteer Thursdays Continue

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 . . .

April 1 - Prepared 50 despensas for local families
April 7 – 25 sets of filters and faucets were installed and checked for leaks prior to distributing water systems
April 8th – Additional despensas were delivered to families in need
April 8 – Delivered infant formula to a local mother
April 8 – A local senior citizen received clothing and personal hygiene products from the community closet
April 8 – a team prepares 300 ham and cheese sandwiches to distribute the following morning at Vida Abundante Church


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

Complete and ready for a new home

More information about the water systems is available at this link: http://friendsofcozumel.com/2020/12/09/water-purification-systems-help-families-stay-healthy-when-money-is-tight/

Community Closet – An Emerging Need

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
  • Hygiene products—shampoo, toothpaste, antibacterial gel/soap, feminine products
  • Purified drinking water to stay healthy 

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).

Pilot project Feb 1-2 held at Vida Abundante Church
Pilot project held Feb 1-2 at Vida Abundante Church

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). 

Milton and Eena
Elena and Milton selected home goods and clothing for their family of 11 spanning three generations

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.

Jefte (standing local volunteer), George and Randy (seated visiting volunteers) check out a mother’s selections.

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


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