Travis Mendoza, B.S. ME ’16, spent the past year and a half in Mexico, designing a hotel in a small, coastal town.
Then, COVID-19 hit. The economies of La Peñita and its surrounding pueblos on Mexico’s west coast, hugely dependent on tourism, have been decimated. As the pandemic wreaked havoc on this industry, many citizens suffered, losing their jobs and their income.
Mendoza worked with a team of volunteers as part of an economic relief effort in response to the pandemic. At its peak, the relief effort, known as Help La Peñita, operated 12 soup kitchens and served over 11,000 meals each day.
With the economy in the area beginning to open back up, Help La Peñita concluded their efforts on June 15. During a period of 64 days of service to the community, the relief organization served a total of 465,758 plates of food.
“Shortly after Mexico started closing its economy I knew that I wanted to offer my time to a humanitarian cause that was responding to the pandemic or its effects,” said Mendoza, who helped to oversee soup kitchens in the community, distributed ingredients and supplies, and traveled between the kitchens throughout the day to help as needed.
Help La Peñita was launched by Cesar Olegario Perez Novoa and his wife Angela Caves, entrepreneurs from La Peñita who own and manage a law firm and a condo building. The couple used their own savings to open two soup kitchens on April 9 with the original goal to serve 1,000 lunch plates for free for 30 days.
“I was poor one time, and I know what it feels like to not be able to put food on the table,” Perez Novoa said. “I don’t want babies to go to sleep on an empty stomach or older people to be forgotten.”
The couple reached out to friends and business contacts in the United States and Canada looking for donations. They received an outpouring of support, allowing their work to expand to reach more of the surrounding regions.
Mendoza got involved early on, when Perez Novoa reached out to him for help. Mendoza had met Perez Nova when his law firm had assisted with construction permits for Mendoza’s team. Mendoza immediately began volunteering as part of a logistics team for the organization.
“Seeing the people of the community light up after receiving a helping hand was emotionally moving to me,” Mendoza said.
In addition to the operation of the soup kitchens, Help La Peñita provided support to the community by handing out despensas, bags of essential groceries and hygiene products. These bags, which could contain olive oil, beans, canned vegetables, sugar, and toilet paper, were distributed at the soup kitchens for families to take home, or delivered to communities via pick-up truck and gifted to families in need.
Additionally, the organization gave out free medications for those with diabetes and high blood pressure, and diapers and formula for families with young babies. Finally, Help La Peñita worked to ensure homes are warm and have access to hot water by delivering propane gas and firewood and by helping families pay for their electric bills.
Around 200 people were part of the team of volunteers for Help La Peñita, most of which were natives of the area. Cooks from recently closed restaurants in the area prepared and served the meals. Carpenters, construction workers, business owners, beach vendors, and other locals who relied on tourism for their income delivered supplies and helped to organize efforts. The people of La Peñita worked together to support their community.
Mendoza, in addition to his work on the logistics team, ran a fundraising campaign for Help La Peñita to spread awareness and increase donations. If you’re interested in making a donation or getting involved in some other way to help the community of La Peñita, feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’m really proud of the work of our team,” Mendoza said. “We are doing a very tangible amount of good to our community. I think we’ve provided many families with a lot of comfort during a very uncertain time.”