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Puerto Vallarta

‘Travaltruism’ and The Art of Making a Difference

The Vallarta Food Bank is 100% volunteer based. If you would like to help the families of Puerto Vallarta get through these trying times, please visit vallartafoodbank.com for donation information.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – The basic survival requirements for a human being are quite simple: food, water, air, and shelter.

Like all our basic needs, food is universal – everybody eats – but that’s where the similarities end. Most of us don’t give much thought to where our next meal will come from, while some others have no idea at all. There are those with the privilege of a private chef, or the UberEats app, or an extra few pesos for some tacos… and some who must pick through trash cans for a little sustenance today. The need for food is so great, that whatever must be done to stop a rumbling belly is exactly what happens. Life literally depends on it.

In spite of the fact that food is a universal need, it is not universally available. Resources vary, and in some of the neediest places around the globe, no safety net exists at all. For example, you might be surprised to learn that before the pandemic, Vallarta didn’t have a food bank. Though many of us who live here and love this town, know how deep the chasm is between the “haves” and the “have nots”, when the question of where our next meal is coming from isn’t actually a question for us personally, perhaps we don’t look in such directions, we don’t ask such questions simply because they don’t occur to us. “Where will that person get their next meal?” is not something that many of us tend to think about.

A Food Bank Is Born

But the board members of the Vallarta Food Bank do think about it. When the pandemic hit, they decided to pivot away from their restaurant businesses and focus on the very clear need that was descending upon Vallarta: the need to feed a lot of people efficiently. They pulled together some donations, assembled care packages of food and supplies, found the greatest need in the community, and hand-delivered the help. Then they just kept asking and helping, asking and helping. Because what else is there to do? People need to eat.

Vallarta Food Bank founders Francie Nguyen, Frankie Victoria Banuelos & Jimmy Plouff

It’s crazy to think that the Vallarta Food Bank didn’t even exist 2 years ago. In September of 2019 we were headed into the last weeks of “low season”, when many local families’ coffers are nearly empty. They work hard all winter through the high season, save and save, to be able to carry themselves through the leaner summer months when there aren’t as many tourists. And, as we inch through September, money gets tighter and tighter.

October and November start to pick back up, but when the pandemic hit in the winter of 2020, high season had just begun. Coffers were finally filling back up, but many people were still living hand to mouth, so when the entire town emptied out, it was but a few days before that universal need, food, came knocking. And it became a really loud noise in many people’s worlds. From March of 2020 to March of 2021, nearly 420 tons of food was served. The pace has picked up even more since then, but they have stopped counting. What’s the point? The show must go on, people need to eat.

Currently they serve about 800 meals every single day at the Vallarta Food Bank, but that’s not all they do. They create “despensas”, bags with a week’s worth of food for a family, and they drive them to some of the farthest-reaching towns surrounding Vallarta.

The food bank has a soup kitchen, an outdoor shower, filtered water available any time, as much as is needed, for the entire neighborhood. They have a vegetable garden. A dispensary of donated medications, laundry, a mental health specialist, a small store of home goods, appliances, clothing and shoes. And they have a big black dog named Batman.

The Vallarta Food Bank does all of this entirely on donations. It costs upwards of $18,000 USD every month to keep it going, and as the pandemic trudges on, the need is only becoming greater. In times of struggle it seems food can become less universal, even as our humanity becomes more so. Many of us can now clearly see that we’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat. This magnifies the distance between the “haves” and the “have nots”, and makes some people really think: “How can I help?”

Corporate Caring

Just like the people at Vallarta Food Bank, Kate Cardoso also thinks a lot about the universal nature of food, which became an important issue for her when the pandemic started too. As a corporate meeting and events planner, her work brings her to exotic destinations all over the world, to many places just like Vallarta: with plenty of 5-star accommodations, but less in the way of food banks. Destinations that are many people’s idea of paradise, but for the locals it’s just life… it’s still scraps from a garbage can, even if that can is under the shade of a palm tree.

In her travels Kate saw this great divide between the “haves” and the “have nots” too, and she had an idea: Add a splash of altruism to these corporate retreats she plans. Offer these groups of people who enjoy such privilege, people who have never had to ask where their next meal is coming from, a chance to help people who desperately need to know where their next meal can be found. To give these jet setters and corporate retreaters a chance to share their abundance with the local community. So that’s exactly what she did. Travaltruism.

Many Hands Make Light Work

On August 26th, Kate and her group helped the Vallarta Food Bank in a huge way at the Grand Velas Resort in Nayarit. This team of folks were in town to celebrate some of their big corporate wins over the past year, and, honoring Kate’s vision, they wanted to support the food bank. So they got organized, went to Costco for all the supplies, booked a conference room, and then 70 incredible people made 600 bag lunches complete with a sandwich, apple, baby carrots and celery, even cookies, in about an hour.

It’s incredible how neither the Vallarta Food Bank, nor this fantastic idea of Kate’s, even existed until people started asking where that person’s next meal is coming from.

Travaltruism is a core part of Kate’s job now, which is great, because as much as she has always loved being a corporate events planner, it felt a little shallow at times. Jetting off here, then there, nothing but palm trees, swim up bars, and five-star service. But it feels good to make others feel good. It’s nice to help, and it’s important to acknowledge that we can. That we have enough… even some to spare… whether that be time, energy, or money. It was important to Kate to build some accountability, some giving back, into all that sun and fun.

Can You Help Too?

So Kate will be spreading her own brand of love and abundance all over the globe as her work takes her here, there and everywhere. She’ll actually be back in Vallarta with another group a little later this year, and we look forward to seeing her then. Meanwhile, and for the foreseeable future (as they say “this is what we do now”), the Vallarta Food Bank will be doing its thing too, spreading its own brand of love and abundance to the people of Vallarta.

Just as things are constantly in flux with the food bank, with so many moving parts, changing costs, rising numbers of families in need, so too can donations fluctuate. Some months there are more donations than others, and often, they’re barely squeaking by. But indeed they are making it, and the result is not just some check mark next to a goal they made… the result is real people with real lives who have real food in their bellies now.

As the saying goes: “I must do something” is always better than “something must be done”.

The entire Vallarta Food Bank program is made possible by generous donations of both time and money. Time and money are exceedingly valuable, and while some people have more of one than the other, they are both immensely important in caring for our community.

The local people of Vallarta who are in need have come to rely upon the Vallarta Food Bank, and the food bank relies upon the community to help answer the growing need. Regular donations that can be counted on, and regular volunteers who also can be counted on, are like gold to the core team at Vallarta Food Bank.

Travaltruism is a brilliant idea, and so appreciated, and fun to say too… but nothing says “I love what you’re doing” like a guaranteed donation of support every month. Nothing says “I see you and I respect you” like volunteering your time and energy, boots on the ground, with a community that can so richly benefit from your efforts.

What will happen when more and more people start asking where that person’s next meal is coming from? Let’s find out.

How To Donate

If you can make a monetary donation, consider $20 monthly. If 900 people do this, Vallarta Food Bank receives a guaranteed $18,000 every month. This is a 100% reachable goal, with your help. Click HERE to make a donation to Vallarta Food Bank.

If your abundance is in the realm of time and energy, and volunteering is in your future, we need you and accept your help with gratitude. Click HERE to learn how you can help.

Written by Emily Murray, the brains behind The Changing Room, a place for learning how to live better. From studying how our brains work, to working our bodies out, to feeding them well, and nourishing our souls too, the Changing Room connects you with others through our community on Facebook, and brings an ever-growing wealth of knowledge through the blog too, available any time and anywhere it’s needed. No time to read? Listen to The Changing Room podcast alongside whatever else you’re doing.

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