New student groups aims to fight hunger in El Salavdor

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Tortillas for Tepecoyo works to fight hunger in and form relationships with the rural community of Tepecoyo, El Salvador.

The newly formed group hopes to help support the comedor, similar to a soup kitchen, in La Javia, Tepecoyo through communication and donations. The comedor in Tepecoyo was created and is maintained by a local woman named Angelica Portillo.

“’Tortillas is an opportunity not only to make sure mouths are fed but to make a real connection between two vastly different realities,” Lindsay Noeson said.

Portillo decided to try to open a comedor in order to help children get proper nutrition and continue to develop and grow healthily.

La Javia is a small community in El Salvador which used relied heavily on its agriculture. Bad weather and overuse of the land has destroyed the agricultural options for the community in recent years.

This left many of the families of Tepecoyo without a steady form of income, and as a result it became harder and harder for parents to feed their children regularly. This in turn meant that children weren’t eating properly, if at all, and thus struggling both in terms of health and education, unable to learn and develop properly in school.

Portillo’s kitchen serves as a place where parents can send their children when they are struggling to pay for food and support their families.

According to Alexa Phillips, the group’s vice president, Portillo thought it would be impossible to successfully open a comedor. Even now, she struggles to keep her service running. Students that were in the community with the Casa de la Solidaridad have done their best to help support Portillo’s work.

Casa de la Solidaridad is a study abroad program based in El Salvador that brings together Salvadoran and American students at the university level to live in community with each other. The program focuses on accompaniment, spirituality and relationship.

The comedor has been supported by various groups since it was opened 13 years ago, but never has enough funding to remain open indefinitely. There have been multiple occasions when Portillo had to shut the program down entirely.

Portillo’s kitchen now serves roughly 26 young people, ranging from ages five to 18, and functions solely on donations, most of which come from students interested in helping the community succeed.

Lindsey Weston, a senior in the School of Social Work, with the help of Ella Guimond of University of San Diego and Katie Long of Marquette University started Tortillas for Tepecoyo in an attempt to further support the community of Tepecoyo.

Weston created a website for the program in January of 2012 to try to gather donations. The organization was based at Saint Louis University and began last Spring when Weston applied for a Bright Ideas Grant through the school.

Weston’s application for a grant highlighted the importance of nutrition in academic success, and the grant was written with the intention of heightening cultural awareness at SLU. Weston hopes that by getting involved with Tortillas for Tepecoyo, students can have valuable experiences with people from an entirely different culture.

“I believe there is an entirely different type of learning that can be gained through living, through conversations with people you’ve never met and through the exploration of other cultures,” Weston said. “Our goal is to share the knowledge we gained in El Salvador with as many people we can.”

Tortillas held their first meeting on Sept. 24.

“We did not want to come in as outsiders with the mentality that with our money, we could do anything,” said Weston. “[We] did not want to simply ask for donations.”

Tortillas for Tepecoyo wants to focus on forming relationships between American students and the community of Tepecoyo first and foremost.

They hope to do this through a pen pal program where students correspond with children that benefit from the comedor.

Those currently involved in the program are all deeply attached to Tepecoyo, having already spent time there through the Casa program.

“The days I spent with the moms cooking and feeding the kids were some of the best experiences I had during my time [in El Salvador],” said Lindsay Noesen, a Casa alumnus and Physical Therapy student at SLU.

“We want members who are invested in making relationships,” Weston said. “We want people to write letters and to be open to sharing and to be open to listening.”

A long-term goal of the group is to generate donations for the comedor to remain open for as long as the people of Tepecoyo need it. According to Weston, Tortillas plans to hold small funding events throughout the fall semester.

There is also a Night of Solidarity planned for the spring, an event including food, music, speakers and dances.