COVID-19–The Kindness Virus? In San Miguel de Allende, Helping the Hungry

Yesterday, I put out the question: What is happening is your Mexican town? My friend artist Lena Bartula, who lives full-time in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, replied. Lena is an activist artist who created a movement using indigenous huipils as an art metaphor for feminist strength, identity, oppression, the divine and hope. She is known as La Huipilista and coined the phrase, In Guad We Trust.

It’s no wonder that she is involved in the non-profit Amigos al Cien, helping to feed local people whose lives and livelihoods are interrupted by the coronavirus. This is a model we could all live by.

Receiving food and supplies via Amigos al Cien

I share this story with you because in these days of extreme restrictions, there is sense of community and hopefulness for a future that will teach us how to be kinder and more giving, engaged. Here is what Lena says:

My housekeeper Maria hasn’t come to clean my house for three weeks. Maria didn’t want to ride the bus or leave her house, which I applaud and appreciate, so I pay her to NOT COME. Mexico News Daily reports that most expats around the country are doing this as well. 

But she came yesterday to clean because I paid for her to take taxis both ways. My neighbor five doors down did the same thing, finally, because then Maria would only have to come out of her house for that one day. While she was there, I spent the day at the gallery so there would be no one to interface with. That’s how we handle social distancing. The gallery has been closed since March 13.

This morning she sent me a message that with some of the money we are paying her, she is buying rice and vegetable for the older people she knows that don’t have enough food and can’t go out. She is now supporting two families in this way. I told her how much I appreciate what she’s doing, because this is the way we will survive this. All of us helping each other / unos a otros. 

Then she wrote back to say that she has now decided that she will invite her sisters to help her by pitching in to buy three dispensas, which cost 500 pesos (about $25 USD) apiece. She’s thinking of it as a challenge, and I believe she can do it because she has an independent spirit and a kind heart. 

Dispensas are the packages or bags of staples that one can purchase for a family in need. It generally will consist of rice, beans, lentils, tuna and other canned goods, toilet paper, soap, etc.  They are basic necessities that are “dispensed” to poor communities or families in times of crisis like this one. Since one dispensa costs 500 pesos. in this case she’s asking for 1500 pesos from the combined efforts of three sisters. I hope that makes sense. 

Sometimes the dispensas are supplied by the government but also from NGOs. However, some families fall through the cracks. We have a good new Mexican organization that is doing fabulous work in this realm, called Amigos al 100 [Friends to the Hundreds].

[Note from Trish Snyder: Kudos to Amigos al 100 who started giving out bags of food on March 19, 2020. The first week they reached 200 families and are now reaching nearly 1000 of people in the poorest communities. Many of these villages are women and children whose husbands and fathers are in the States and not sending remittances because they have lost their jobs. To help out, folks can go to Paypal and send a donation to info@smapenzi.com, attention Guadalupe Alvarez.]

 Maria doesn’t live alone. She’s a single mom with three children. But she regularly sees her mom, who while not elderly, does have health challenges. 

Perhaps this is the kindness virus that will continue to spread in our community, where we will all look after each other. May we look for more ways to reach out, to connect one to another, and be sure that it doesn’t end when COVID does.  

Big hugs, Lena

[Leave it to Lena to coin another phrase, the Kindness Virus!]

Also from San Miguel de Allende:

Patrice Wynne reports: Though there are people in the streets in the morning, it tapers off in the early afternoon and is dead at 4 pm. When we close Abrazos San Miguel every afternoon, it looks like this. [See photo below.] And thank you for doing this. Hope you are safe in your beautiful home and that Teotitlan Del Valle is safe from harm, Querida.

Photo courtesy of Patrice Wynne, Abrazos San Miguel

Gina Hyams reports: Hotels, restaurants, and parks are now closed in San Miguel de Allende, so tourism is definitely being discouraged by the government, but I haven’t heard of non-residents being refused entry to the city. Many grocery stores and restaurants are now offering home delivery.

Gina continues: regarding groceries, you can still shop in person, but it’s a very mixed bag re: masks, gloves, social distancing depending on where you go. I personally am sticking to small neighborhood tiendas where only a few people can shop at a time.

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Norma’s notes: San Miguel de Allende is a well-established colonial Mexican town that has had a vibrant foreign-resident arts community since WWII when returning veterans could use the GI Bill to study art there. Today, the colonial town is has an active gueros community and is supported by tourism. They, together with Mexican locals, create and support model programs to help Mexican people and their animal spay/neuter rescue program is unparalleled in Mexico.

Gina Hyams adds: Thanks for this article, Norma. While it’s true that the foreign community contributes a lot to local philanthropy, Amigos al Cien and many other current neighborhood efforts to help people impacted by COVID-19, are led by Mexicans. Foreigners are supporting these initiatives, but they’re not the leaders.

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