In recent weeks, all of us on staff at MTES have been discussing the importance of restoring dignity to those that have lost so much. The men, women, and children served by our programs have many things to grieve. Men who live on the streets have often lost their homes and families, women who have been exploited have lost their innocence, and children without a consistent living situation have lost their security. These losses are emotional, physical, and spiritual. Our hearts are moved, and the temptation comes to give hand-outs to those still reeling from such heavy losses.
But is there a better way to restore dignity and respect? There are places where “hand-outs” and emergency relief are appropriate, but there are also places where these things can add to the overwhelming sense of loss that our clients live with everyday. When someone depends on someone else to meet their needs, their own self-worth can be seriously undermined. We are not doing this perfectly, and we have much to learn but our desire is not just to meet a physical need by filling an empty stomach. Instead, we want to lift up a head, give an opportunity, and restore dignity to someone’s soul.
Many people come to us in crisis. They have nowhere to live, are single moms with kids to support, or simply are struggling to bring some order into their lives. For our clients, meeting daily needs for things like food, blankets, and hygiene items become impossible hurdles. We have recently started a new initiative to help meet those families in those moments, and to help them gain their footing to move forward.
Our newest initiative is a Community Food Co-operative. It’s similar to a food bank, but it is organized and run by each family that is a part of the co-op. They pay a small membership fee and receive their membership card. Then each family works 8 hours a week at the co-op which is located at our community center. They measure out oil and rice for each family, clean the storage area, unpack boxes, and help keep things running smoothly. In exchange, they get groceries each week for their families as designated by a nutritionalist to ensure that each family member is receiving food that will keep them well-nourished.
The program just started with a pilot group of families and it is working wonderfully. All of the families are clients that are involved in our programs such as the bakery sales program, and the Free The Girls program. Instead of merely handing out bags of groceries, we are getting to know our clients even better as they work in the center. They are able to work to provide for their families, and at the end of the day they take joy and pride in the steps they are taking to support their own families, and to help the other families in the co-op as well.
The truth is sometimes it would be easier to hand out bags of groceries, but with the food co-op we are all learning valuable lessons about how good work is for the soul, and how poverty alleviation is so much more than simply taking away someone’s hunger.
Thank you to our donors who have already invested in this project to get it off the ground. We are excited to be working with local business, NGO’s, and donors here in San Salvador to supply the initial groceries to get this pilot group of 6 families working and “shopping” every week. We ask that you continue to pray with us that these families would grow healthy and strong, that we would have the resources to add more families, and that our community would be a place where people can have their needs met and their dignity restored.