Over the last month, Food For The Poor has taken great pride in acknowledging National Hispanic Heritage Month with articles about developments in the Hispanic countries where the charity works and with social media posts featuring FFTP team members of Hispanic descent and their passion for service.
Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place each year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. It recognizes and celebrates the many contributions, diverse cultures and extensive histories of the American Latino community.
“Observing National Hispanic Heritage Month gives us a timely way to share what we are doing to help lift people out of poverty in Latin America,” FFTP President/CEO Ed Raine said. “We are proud of what we have accomplished over our 40-year history of working in the Caribbean and Latin America, and we look forward to doing even more to help the people we serve gain greater control of their destiny.”
FFTP kicked off the celebration on Sept. 15 with an article about Raine and FFTP leadership team members traveling to Colombia to see firsthand how its donors and partners are transforming the lives of families in poverty.
Other stories included a look at the women of the El Cacao Productive Group, a Honduran cooperative, who are using their weaving skills to break the cycle of poverty for their families, and an announcement that FFTP and Cáritas Española signed a framework for collaboration toward a shared vision to end hunger and fight poverty and malnutrition in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The charity’s final article celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month featured news that FFTP is expanding its network to include providing services in Ecuador and Peru.
In addition, FFTP showcased three employees of Hispanic descent in social media posts that highlighted their family traditions and memories of their lives back home. They are among the 104 or 27 percent of the charity’s 387 team members whose ethnicity is Hispanic or Latino.
“Having a diverse workforce is one of our strengths as an organization,” Raine said. “It brings a broad range of insights, ideas and experiences from the varied backgrounds of our team members and leads to greater innovation and creativity in the workplace.”
Each of the team members profiled shared memories of their countries of origin, and all expressed the same commitment to helping FFTP in its mission.
Yolima Penagos Barrera, who joined FFTP in 2015, cherishes memories of family gatherings, holiday celebrations and traditional dishes, such as Ajiaco Colombiano (chicken and potato soup) from her days back home in Colombia. As a young adult, Yolima worked as a physical therapist at a hospital in Bogota, Colombia, where her colleagues and low-income patients struggled to buy medical supplies that the hospital was unable to provide because of a lack of funding.
Yolima moved to the United States when she was 23 and, after working various jobs in the South Florida health care market, she joined FFTP, initially as a Donor Relations Manager and now as a Gifts-in-Kind Partner Reporting Specialist. She is gratified to know that Colombia is one of the countries where FFTP is working to help the less fortunate.
“I feel blessed to be able to work at Food For The Poor,” Yolima said. “We are making a difference in people’s lives and that’s very rewarding, very fulfilling.”
Yolima’s colleague, Miguel Vasquez, left the Dominican Republic with his family when he was 10 years old. The family briefly lived in Atlanta before settling in South Florida.
Miguel fondly recalls riding his bike in the ancient Spanish forts of Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo. Playtime also included playing stickball with his friends, swinging a broomstick to hit a large plastic bottle cap, known as a vitilla, that took the place of a ball. A singer, drummer and percussionist, Miguel grew up surrounded by music at home and in church. He frequently joined his parents to deliver food and supplies to impoverished families.
Miguel began working at FFTP in 2011, initially in the charity’s Clergy Speakers Bureau and now the Gifts-in-Kind Department. Looking back on those church outings with his parents to provide food and supplies to those in need, Miguel has a new perspective.
“Now, I understand the weight of what my parents were bringing me to see on those trips as a kid,” he said. “With Food For The Poor, I can help in a way I couldn’t before.”
While Miguel was a little boy at the time his family moved to the United States, Carolina Obregon Campbell was an adult when she immigrated in 2014. Growing up in Barranquilla, Colombia, Carolina enjoyed the loving embrace of family and friends and the delight of preparing traditional foods like sancocho de costilla and arroz con coco. She plans to instill that love of family and heritage in her 8-month-old daughter, Alanna.
Carolina recalls school field trips to poverty-stricken neighborhoods, where people lived in shacks with no sanitation and limited access to healthy foods and safe drinking water. Moved by those conditions, Carolina joined her classmates at Colegio de la Sagrada Familia in donating food, clothing and toys to those in need.
In 2018, Carolina joined FFTP as an Administrative Assistant in the Human Resources Department. She quickly moved up the ranks, today she works remotely in Queens, New York, as an HR Business Partner. For her, working at FFTP is a labor of love.
“Food For The Poor has a great mission, and I’ve always been a person of faith,” Carolina said. “It fills my heart with joy to know that we are helping so many people. I may not be helping directly, but I’m doing my part, planting my seed, and I feel that’s what God wants us to do – to help each other, especially the poor.”