Santa Elena Food Program

In 2004, OCIMA began another important project – to help feed the hungry in the rural areas surrounding Morales and Santa Elena in Guatemala, where malnutrition continues to be a reality of life. According to data published by The World Bank in 2003, 76% of indigenous families in Guatemala live below the poverty line, and among those families, 27% live in extreme poverty.

This means that about 1 out of 5 of indigenous Guatemalan families cannot afford to purchase a basic basket of food!

With the world’s economic crisis in 2008, the number of Guatemalans who are falling into “extreme poverty” is on the rise.

How are we doing it?

With the help of generous donors, the leadership of the Youth Group at Saint Irenaeus Church in Rochester Hills, Michigan and a non-profit organization called Kids Against Hunger™, OCIMA sponsored annual food packaging events in 2004 through 2016, at which time we ran into some snags with Guatemala Customs, and later COVID. We plan to re-initiate these events after we work through some logistical issues. Our goal at each of these events is to prepare at least 500 boxes of food for distribution. Each of the boxes contains 36 bags of a blend of rice, soy, dried vegetables, vitamins and flavorings and provides a meal for 6 to 12 people, depending on the ratio of adults and children. Combined, 500 boxes provide between 108,000 and 216,000 nutritious meals.

The Youth Group at Saint Irenaeus Church has taken on the responsibility of organizing the food packaging event at the Parish Hall, with the help of other key Church members. The event lasts three days – two to three hours per evening – and is typically scheduled in the Fall, shortly after the students return to school.
Wearing disposable hats, aprons, and gloves to ensure proper hygiene, over 100 volunteers organize into assembly lines of 10 to 12 people each evening. In each line, people measure the ingredients into bags, verify weights, seal the bags and pack boxes. The boxes are then loaded up into a truck and stored at a donor’s warehouse until the food is shipped to Guatemala.

Once the food reaches Guatemala, distribution is handled through the Nutritional Center in Morales and the Clinic in Santa Elena. The tireless people who run these facilities ensure that the food is distributed to those most in need. Each location has the use of a truck to deliver the food, but sometimes, the villages are too remote to reach by truck and the last leg of the journey is on foot, with mules carrying the heavy loads of food. There are many levels of need and only a limited amount of food available, so OCIMA has only two guidelines regarding the distribution of the food: First that the villages with the highest incidence of malnutrition are targeted; and second that the number of villages receiving help are limited so that the food can make a real difference in the health of those who do receive it.

A little about Kids Against Hunger™

We are fortunate to have found a non-profit organization with a vision consistent with OCIMA’s goals to help feed the hungry and to actively involve children and teenagers.

Several years ago, Kids Against Hunger™ enlisted the help of food scientists to develop a specially formulated meal to provide a rich source of easily digestible protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins needed by an undernourished child’s body and mind. The food offers all nine of the essential amino acids required for complete nutrition, something that can’t be said about other typical food relief sources such as rice or beans alone. It is also very simple to prepare, requiring only boiling water to make a complete meal.

Kids Against Hunger™ purchases and stores the food ingredients and packaging materials in bulk and provides a means for volunteers to contribute time to package the food for shipment all over the world. They also arrange special off-site packaging events for groups like OCIMA, as long as the group can cover the cost of the food and other incidentals (e.g., packaging materials).

Into the future

As funds allow, we would like to expand the reach of this project. Although OCIMA could purchase the food ingredients in Guatemala, we recognize the value of people participating in a more personal way to improve the lives of those less fortunate. We especially believe this activity will have a positive impact on our younger volunteers and that they will continue their charitable involvement into adulthood.

This all takes time, money, cooperation and planning. Thanks to all those who participate and help make this a successful event. The thousands who benefit through this food program are very mindful of your generosity.

Written By: Maria Cardinale Curreri 12/2008, updated 1/2024