Feeding their souls

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Above: In 2009, Cargill began supporting Comedor Santa María by donating kitchen equipment for the Tlaphecio dining room. Over the years, the company has provided ongoing financial support, product donations and volunteer time.

With Cargill’s support, Comedor Santa María delivers much more than nutritious meals to children in Mexico City

When Comedor Santa María was created in 1995, the organization’s founder and director, Alicia Mier y Teran, did not realize the extent of the need in the community. 

“We started feeding 15 children, and we realized the real conditions of poverty they experienced in their communities,” she said. “We began to grow in a natural way until we built the first dining room with capacity for 200 children.” 

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The Tlaphecio dining room serves approximately 330 children each year. Children visit the dining room daily, in two different shifts.

Since then, the organization has reached some 15,000 kids, providing nutritious meals at 24 dining rooms across Mexico City. However, the term “dining room” doesn’t do justice to these facilities. Not only are kids being fed meals here, they’re getting health check-ups and perhaps most importantly, learning about values.

“Through our human values program, our children are oriented to well-being and family values, so that, at the end of their time with us, they are well nourished, but above all they have a life plan to continue their studies or work and become productive members of society,” said Mier y Teran. 

It’s an aspiration that she knows comes with challenges. Comedor Santa María serves some of the poorest communities in Mexico City, including a neighborhood called Tlapechio where families live in extreme poverty. Safety has become a growing concern in recent years, and opportunities for children and young people are becoming scarce. Despite being in close proximity to one of the main business centers of the city, the living conditions in Tlapechio have deteriorated. 

Indeed, when visiting Cargill’s Mexico City office in the nearby business district, one may not realize that right around the corner there are parents struggling every day to feed their children.

“When you are aware that this is the reality for these children, you feel compelled to take action,” said Valeria Olson, corporate affairs manager for Cargill Mexico

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Comedor Santa María serves children in 24 dining rooms across Mexico City. The kids are taught a “value of the month” through songs, stories and activities.

So in 2009, Cargill began supporting Comedor Santa María by donating kitchen equipment for the Tlaphecio dining room. Over the years, the company has provided ongoing financial support, product donations and volunteer time.  

“For me it has been highly rewarding to share a moment of my time with the kids from Comedor Santa María,” said Gabriela Montiel, a Cargill volunteer and member of the local Cargill Cares Council. “I think that the support we give to these children who, for different circumstances don’t have the same living conditions that we have, will make a difference in their lives.” 

It’s a partnership that is supported by multiple Cargill businesses and functions in Mexico. 

“Cargill has been an excellent donor. It has helped us a lot. They equipped the entire kitchen of this dining room,” said Mier y Teran.

This particular dining room serves approximately 330 children each year. Sisters Mildred and Jatzil are regulars, always accompanied by their grandmother Marisela Soto. 

“Sometimes in our house we do not have enough resources to feed our children, or grandchildren in my case,” she said, “But with the help of the dining room, my granddaughters are well fed and they learn values that help them become better people.” 

Children visit the dining room daily in two different shifts. They are greeted by staff, then given their cutlery before they line up to receive their food. On the walls of the dining room hang posters promoting the “value of the month,” such as human dignity or family values, which is taught daily through songs, stories and activities. 

Soto says Mildred and Jatzil go happily to the dining room, not only for the food, but also for the affection they receive from staff members. “Children, as well as being well fed, take home new values, same values that we adopt and follow,” says Soto. 

Long after the plates are cleared and bellies are full, a legacy of strong values is what Comedor Santa María hopes to leave behind.

Published December 2, 2016
 

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