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; or   

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: 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.