Santa makes it to El Naranjo this Christmas
Not only did Santa make it to El Naranjo this Christmas, so did I; and I was very happy to escape the cold winter months in Ireland and the enormous rising costs of heating that came down the track. I’m staying with my friend Kelly who has lived here for a number of years and became involved with the local village, helping out during COVID. Despensas is the Spanish word for pantry and over the last couple of years when COVID destroyed local industry, Kelly fund raised and set up a despensas to help the neediest families in the village with the support of community organisers. I helped out this year and below is the report of the Christmas despensas. I hope you enjoy….more on life in Mexico to follow.
For the third year running, we (the community in Vida del Mar, Las Lomas, Miramar and Santiago Club) were able to help our neighbours celebrate Christmas in the village of El Naranjo. Our fundraising drive came a little later than usual, but thankfully did not disappoint. Thanks go out to our generous food donor Manzanillo Migrant Mission, and to Rich Taylor and Chris Lundgren for stepping in this year to assist with fund raising and also to our donor report publisher in Ajijic.
Manzanillo Migrant Mission stepped up to the plate once again (no pun intended) and provided the essentials to help 50 of the poorest families with rice, beans, tuna fish, jalapenos and the much-appreciated packet of coffee and animal crackers, favourites among the residents of El Naranjo. We also distributed chicken stock cubes and washing powder for the families from your donations. Of course, Christmas is all about children, and this year we managed to provide 61 + 7 late-found children with a bag of age-appropriate goodies.
THE GIFTS YOU PROVIDED
All children’s toy bags included Christmas gift bags, juice boxes, drinking bottles, candy bags, toothpaste and toothbrushes, combs and hair brushes and a basket or box to hold their ‘valuables’.
Gifts by age group
For the youngest girls and boys, we provided baby blankets, bath toys and bathing sponges, stuffed animals, squeeze toys and soft balls. Pre-schoolers also received some combination of play-doh and slime, building blocks, foam swords, spinning tops, toy cars, yoyos, small water pistols, bubble makers, balls, and t-shirts. Paints, crayons and coloring cooks/supplies and story books were also included.
All pre-schoolers and school-aged children got balloons, socks, balls, marbles, yoyos, and water pistols. In addition, there were school supply kits with a pencil bag, spiral notebook, coloring/activity books and coloring pencils/markers or crayons, pens, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpener, scissors and for the older children a folder and activity calendar. There was also a selection of frisbees, table games, watches, animal pillows, paints, story and educational books for the older kids, etc.
Girls received a selection from Barbie dolls, body spray and body wash, cream, stuffed animals, pony-tail holders, purses, compact mirrors and T-shirts. The older girls also enjoyed an assortment of nail polish, lip gloss, jewellery and handbags. The older boys received activity and puzzle books, soccer balls and sports jerseys.
It took five trips to Manzanillo to acquire sufficient toys to fill the initial 61 toy bags at a cost of $30,955.11 pesos which averaged $507.46 pesos per child for the toy bags distributed on December 21st. The supplemental detergent/bullion bags cost 31 pesos each from donor funds for the 50 families. Luckily the shopping team made it to the stores before the shelves were cleared of suitable toys. With the expectation that some extra children would show up, we packed three extra bags of presents, but that turned out to be too few when we discovered a number of street children without fixed abodes. Not to be forgotten, we are also grateful for the in-kind donations including math workbooks, marbles, jewellery, purses and grooming sets, clothes and the cutest beany toys brought down by car from a very generous donor coming from the States.
Our community organisers once again rolled up their sleeves and provided us with the lists and the man/woman power to pack the bags, while also providing the space for the main distribution. The distributions would not be possible without the inputs from the community – Gaby (fisherman) and Tonia (former Naranjo mayor), Adriana and her children Jenny and Axel, who between them and some school teachers, shopkeepers and street children know each family and their back story. The truck and car owners who bring the families down from the outskirts of the village to pick up the gift parcels are also a part of this team effort. Our Vida ex-pat helpers provided lessons in bow tying and helped with filling the bags. We are grateful to have the talent of John Chalmers taking a selection of the photos at the distribution. Our Irish visitor assisted with the shopping and while she may look older in years, her inner child provided some useful insights into the choice of toys for the appropriate age groups.
We saw many of the familiar faces (such as the Old Man on the Mountain’s brother; the coconut vendor on crutches; the meticulous housekeeper for whom your Other Donations added to the meager furnishings of her family’s tent home – her son’s broken arm from a fall has healed, her husband has also healed from a motorcycle accident; and the Chicken Lady who has moved her stand to the front entrance of the primary school) as well as many new faces including disabled children, people living with cancer and a number of street children and semi-nomadic kids without parents.
Across the road from where the despensas were distributed the ‘Corn Seller’ has a stall beside the bus shelter. A young widower, he has his own three small children and keeps them within his sight while he sells his cooked corn-on-the-cob. He also helps support his late wife’s sister’s children, whose parents are not present. They came early for the parcels, so the team were able to observe the children as they opened the toy bags and spent the remainder of the time during the distribution blowing bubbles with their shouts of laughter drifting across the road above the noise of the traffic. You can help this struggling father by stopping off to purchase corn on your way into Manzanillo.
You may remember Christina whose arm was broken and set with pins last year – she had had blood vessels torn in several places from a subsequent fall and came to the distribution with a wheelbarrow and a grandchild in tow. It was news to the team that her 3-year-old grandson was now living with her and it was another situation where we had no toy bag. Christina really wanted to be able to give her grandson a ball so, with a late incoming donation, we made up a bag and dropped it at her house on Christmas Eve. Christina’s arm has healed a bit oddly and she does not have full use of her hands – one is still swollen, but she has returned to clearing land with a machete when she can, and she is an entertainer in a bar but can’t sing now because of throat problems. Christina’s poor diet means she is still anaemic, but is as artistic as ever and her house and street is a marvel of Christmas decoration from salvaged items. It was a lovely sight to see when we called to drop off pet food for the eight stray dogs and five stray cats she is currently taking care of until she finds a home for them.
Chema (the Accountant) and the Flop House –
Chema was our inventory assistant and bag-stuffing volunteer for the first 2-years of the Naranjo Despensas Project and he is now 13 years old. Chema is now missing school sometimes because he hangs out in the streets despite local mothers trying to coax him back to classes. His mother has drug issues and the aunt who sold street food to support them has since died of a circulatory disease. An elderly woman who lived with the family and who works as a cook at a restaurant until the late hours, has six boys (aged 9-13) without parents flopping at her place,which is in a very poor condition since Chema’s aunt died. We knew about Chema, his younger brother and one other boy at the house, but there were three other street kids we didn’t know about who were left without toy bags when they showed up at the distribution point. The 13-year-old boy started to cry when we had to send him off without a bag. Once the distribution finished we discovered that an 11-year-old boy who was on our list had gone to visit his divorced father in Michoacan so a posse went out on foot, by motorcycle and car searching for the young teenager who got no gifts. We got him a bag of presents 2 days later. We will visit the flop house and see whether we can rustle up some further Other Donations to help them with living necessities.
A fragile boy and his sister of about 10 years-old came to the distribution point to personally receive their toys. We were unaware of the children in previous distributions as their hypoplasia bone condition leaves them too weak to stand or leave the house. Two adults helped the kids walk from their special chairs in the back of a pickup truck and held them under the armpits while they came to the counter. The children were clearly thrilled to be there among all the kids. Should there be any leftover donations, we will enquire about acquiring some more appropriate toys for delicate play in a chair or bed as some active play items given are inappropriate.
Jennifer and the plastic lid collection for Kids with Cancer – Jennifer and her family received the first two large deliveries of plastic lids collected here and in the US. The first two filled an SUV and a truck driven down from Washington with lids collected by the Crossroads Rotary members. A third delivery will be made in January as other visitors are bringing bins of lids down from Washington State.
Thanks to the many helpers who deliver lids. This will be the third year we have been participating in the children’s cancer program.
Jennifer has grown tall and is looking very healthy at 8-years-old. She still has monthly monitoring and regularly has her port cleaned which has been left in place should she have a relapse, but otherwise she is happy and never complains or feels sorry for herself. Keep saving those lids.
Teenage daughter of breast cancer Victim – You will remember the picture of the 12 year-old girl who was the face of our 2020 toy drive. Her mother was the former community organizer who contracted breast cancer and died this past year so the two daughters went to live with an aunt outside Colima. That situation didn’t work out so the girls (now 15 and 20) are back at their father’s house (the parents divorced years ago) near La Central where they are often left alone, especially at night.The father has alcohol issues and the girls are generally left to fend for themselves.
Former Bus Driver – Many of you will remember the bus driver who lost a leg above the knee last year due to diabetes. Neighbors built a ramp into his house so he can get around by wheelchair. The government finally agreed to pay his social security medical care and he had one eye operated upon. On the day of the distribution he was in day eight of a 30 day recovery period and has difficulty seeing yet. The other eye will be operated on for cataracts in the future. We talked with his wife who, as usual, showed up with a wheelbarrow to help neighbors transport despensas to their home on a faraway street. They now have three dogs and three cats they rescued from the streets in their area.
Heroes Del La Reforma –
The man who first informed us of the poverty of this undeveloped area on the edges of El Naranjo came early with his grandchildren. His daughter, who had purpura (blood pooling under the skin and excessive bleeding), died so he is supporting two families now.
Animal Rescuers –
Before the despensas/toy distribution, we visited the five households that take care of strays (with food and limited medical care) to deliver pet food since they don’t receive outside support. During the drop offs we witnessed a number of dogs and cats with skin problems, mange has likely returned to town, along with eye conditions as well as starving dogs, limping dogs whose legs were broken when they were hit by a car and dogs that require sterilization.
Another home delivery to a late discovery in need.
The 30 Cat Lady now is helping just 13 cats because of poisonings. Stephania currently has 11 cats and eight dogs, two of whom had skin problems and she reported that Animal Angels had helped with six sterilizations. Street Paws, the lady with a special needs daughter who is part of a group of four women across parts of Manzanillo, had a box of four kittens dropped off the night before we visited. She already has eight adult cats, some with eye and skin problems, as well as five dogs. Marta now has eight dogs and 11 cats.
Seven Additional Children
There were seven very disappointed children who turned up at the despensas when we distributed on December 21st – from a young 9-month-old baby to several street kids who heard on the grapevine that we were handing out Christmas presents. It was heart-breaking to turn them away when they have absolutely nothing. Tonia, Adriana, Chema and Jenny helped find out where they lived and how many required our assistance. On Christmas Eve we enlisted the assistance of the ever polite and obliging Chema (the Accountant) who came along with us in the car to distribute the toy bags to where the kids lived. We also noted that Chema had to come barefoot to the Christmas distribution. His living situation has continued to worsen since we met him yet he continues to help others. We are open to offers of further assistance for these kids without parents but in the meantime, we used the remaining funds and some more to ensure they have some sort of Christmas.
The seven new kids were delivered bags filled with soccer balls, candy, a doll, bathing sponges, bubble-maker, toothbrushes and toothpaste, some play-doh or slime, crayons and coloring/story books, toy cars, foam sword, stuffed toys, building blocks, marbles, street chalk and very bouncy balls as well as a couple of pair of socks each. We also provided them with school packs, hoping that it will encourage them to show up to school. They’re very vulnerable and open to all sorts of inappropriate influences on the streets.
Government Food Basket – the Mexican food basket (corn oil, rice, tuna, pork, chicken and beef, as well as onion, jalapeño pepper, beans, eggs, toilet soap, tomato, milk, lime, apple, orange, sliced bread, potato, pasta for soup, sardines, carrots, corn and wheat flour, white corn, sorghum and wheat) fell in price by 3.4% between October 2021 and 2022 (falling from 1,087 to 1,041 pesos in Guadalajara for the 24 items).
Inflation – Mexican inflation is currently 7.77-8.35% (with/without volatile products) and rose in first two weeks of December after declining for the previous three months (8.41% in October and 7.8% in November). The Bank of Mexico tries to keep inflation in the 2-4% range and is expected to raise lending rates again on 9 February.
Minimum Wage In 2023 the Mexican minimum wage will rise by 20 per cent to 207.44 (€9.44 or US$10.57) pesos per day.
Labor & GDP – The informal economy, those with no benefits, (street vendors, maids/gardeners, retail, construction, agriculture, etc.) accounts for 55.8 per cent of employed Mexicans (up from 21.8 per cent due to the 2020 COVID contraction), but generates 23.7 per cent of earned income. In 2021, GDP grew 4.7 per cent due to the 2.7 per cent increase in the formal economy (manufacturing, government, wholesale trade, etc.)
Despensas – Manzanillo city provided Despensas in December to 1,250 families in greater Manzanillo including El Naranjo.
Carnival/Mardi Gras -is scheduled for February 9-12th ” Viva la Magic” and will have a circus theme with floats, artistic and cultural events, children’s groups, handicrafts, gastronomy, etc. If you prefer to avoid the traffic and crowds, mark your calendars to do your in-town shopping before this.
Without your generous in-kind and cash contributions we would not have been able to assist some of the poorest families in the area and for that we wish to thank each and every one of you who took the time to support this year’s efforts.