La cultura trae conocimiento. El conocimiento conduce a la conciencia. Y cuando nos hacemos conscientes, estamos a un paso de ser socialmente responsables. La cultura es la claveMassimo Bottura
Note: a version of this article is soon to be published in the Yucatan Today magazine.
Maria furiously swings her cane, over and over, beating on the defenseless form at her feet while I and a few others stand in a circle around her and watch a mixture of respect and a touch of alarm at her energetic, almost frantic, efforts to rip open the piñata.
“I do not want to get on her bad side.” This thought rushes into my mind as she vents a hidden fury.
While the concept of volunteering is not as evident as it is north of the border, Mexico does have a long tradition of individuals and social organizations responding to help those in need; particularly through the church. Of late, as more and more people find themselves in need, more and more individuals, organizations and even private companies have stepped forward to provide relief.
She looks up, her hair wildly out of place and flashes us a huge toothless grin. She has succeeded where the tender fists of the few children who had come to the Refettorio’s first Christmas brunch had not; candies now lie strewn about, and everyone –young and old – scrambles on all fours to grab their share. Everyone loves a piñata!
The latest entry into the world of social assistance from the private sector is a joint venture involving non-profits including Italian chef Massimo Bottura’s Food for Soul and our very own Fundación Palace Resorts. In a meticulously restored colonial mansion in the heart of Merida’s centro, a space has been designed to provide those who need it with a dignified and communal place to eat healthy, beautiful three-course meals served by volunteers. There is art on the walls, silverware on the tables. Meals are planned, based on what donations have been acquired and how they can be combined in a nutritious and attractive way. Each plate, as designed by chef José Angel Zamudio, rivals anything you will find at any of Merida’s finest restaurants, both in presentation and in deliciousness.
As the children and the adults return to their seats, a small band plays music and a few of the people get up to dance. Many of the guests, homeless or in otherwise precarious situations, are able to enjoy a moment free of tension, worry and hardship. The Refettorio is a place where they not only enjoy a first class meal, but also have the opportunity to take a shower with fresh soap and clean towels, obtain a change of clothes if necessary and even, on certain days, get a haircut.
All of this is possible through the support of the Palace Resorts and the logistical backing of Food for Soul. A minimal staff under the expert supervision of Claudia Bolio runs the operation and the active participation of dozens of volunteers – in the kitchen and in the dining room – provide the hands that ensure the work gets done.
Since opening this past year, in the middle of a very unplanned pandemic, the Refettorio has:
- served over 21,000 plates of food
- reclaimed over 8 tons of food
- organized the participation of over 100 vulnteers
- supported 34 organizations with donations
- registered and attended over 350 individuals in need in Merida’s historic centro
There’s one other bit of data missing: how helping out has affected me, as one of a score of volunteers. Many of the families and individuals I had the opportunity to visit in their homes when we were doing meal delivery and now those who have come to the Refettorio to enjoy a meal I know by name and they know me. It has been a blessing to have found Claudia and this program, as it has allowed me to get out of my often-negative pandemic headspace and do something productive and feel useful.
If you have the time and the inclination, helping out at the Refettorio is a great way to give back to the community and assist those who need it most. See their website for details and contact information.