San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Women Survivors Delve into Pizza Business with Help from Foundation

A few months after the police tape andtelevision cameras left La Carpio in westernSan José, a new sign was tacked onto ahome facing one of this shanty town’shandful of paved streets. It advertises pizzafor sale.The home was nearly emptied inJanuary when Wilbert López shot andkilled three of his children, injured a fourthand shot his pregnant wife twice in theabdomen before taking his own life (TT,Jan. 30). His wife Marta Alvarado survived,as did her baby daughter, Alison,who is now three months old.Through one of the windows in the yellowcement wall, Alvarado and her mother,also named Marta Alvarado, can be seenkneading dough and slowly cutting bellpeppers, ham, hotdogs or whatever themarket bears to top their pizzas.THOUGH the two of them sell onlyfour or five pizzas every week, the moneythey earn, ¢2,000 ($4.40) per pizza, is awelcome supplement that pays utilities andother necessities.Just weeks ago, they didn’t know pizzadough from biscuit mix, but with the helpof the Costa Rican HumanitarianFoundation and David Feingold, owner ofSan José’s Boston Bagels, they only need asack of flour, tomatoes and cheese to bakepies.Their customers are neighbors andpassersby who order pizza by the slice for¢200 ($0.44), and they have had someorders to cater birthday parties with wholepizzas.Business is slow, the older Alvaradosaid, because the clientele is poor.LA Carpio is a poor community on theoutskirts of San José and Costa Rican society,made up mostly of Nicaraguan immigrantslike the Alvarados, who came hereafter the elder Marta’s husband disappearedin the civil war.It has evolved from squatters’ shacks tomore permanent cement houses and a fewpaved roads, mostly along the garbage-truckroute to the nearby landfill.Still, when its name is mentioned it isoften in conjunction with violence andcrime. It was the site of the year’s mostviolent protest (against the landfill) – anevent in which at least 30 people were seriouslyinjured, seven of them by gunshots(TT, June 4).Pizza, in this neighborhood of beansand-rice sodas in converted living roomsand street-side green-mangos-with-saltstands, is an anomaly that has had somesmall success, especially on weekends.IT all began with free balls of frozendough.Feingold, who pioneered the bagelindustry in Costa Rica in the late 1990s,sells dough to pizza chains around thecountry through his wholesale bakeryBoston Bagels (TT, May 15, 1998).Through talks with Gail Nystrom, head ofthe Humanitarian Foundation, he arrangedto supply the Alvarados and four other families with a few dough balls every weekto help them start their own small businesses.“It gives them extra income and theydon’t have to leave the house, so they cantake care of their kids,” Feingold said. “Ifthey can make a few thousand extracolones a day, that can make all the differencein the world.”The Alvarados learned how to makethe dough, and now ask Feingold for sacksof flour.“YOU give someone bread and theycan eat, but you teach them how to makedough…” he said in his baker’s variationof the old saying about fish.“It makes them more involved in theprocess and more independent,” he added.For the amount of sales they make, thebusiness is small, perhaps not even worthyof the word “business,” but it helps womenin poor financial straits, and there is alwaysthe possibility of growth.“I’m going to say the truth: with thesepizzas, to get ahead… no, but to help a littlebit… yes,” the elder Alvarado said.She hasn’t learned to toss the dough –that’s a technique that may come later – butshe presses it onto greased pans with theedges bent up to fit in their economy-sizedoven.Her daughter feeds her baby, the miraculoussurvivor of the shooting, while sheprepares the pizzas. A framed photo of herthree slain children hangs on the wall facingthe front door.FOUR other families have startedpizza businesses of their own usingFeingold’s dough, and one woman, NuriaChavarría, is learning to bake pies from theAlvarados. The others are also strugglingto get ahead financially, and have oftenlived stories as grim as that of theAlvarados.Chavarría, who was homeless for sixyears before she met Nystrom in 2001,would like to start the pizza business tohelp support her seven children.“You have to fight… to look for newgoals and ways to live better,” she said.Nystrom first met one of the otherpizza bakers, Ana Pérez, when she was livingin a shelter for abused women.Nystrom provided her with a place to live,school supplies and clothes for her 12 children.Now she sells pizza from a soda sheset up in a public school in Santa Ana, atown west of San José.NORA Lindora is another pizza bakerin Santa Ana, a single mother of two and afoster mom for one of the street kids in thecare of the Humanitarian Foundation. Thepizza she sells allows her to feed the threechildren, Nystrom said.After Yajaira Oporto’s younger brotherwas murdered, she began baking pizzathrough the foundation’s program as a distractionfrom her depression.“We look for ways to emotionally supportwomen, to raise their self-esteem, thenlook for ways to help them become financiallyindependent,” Nystrom said.The pizza businesses are one of the 50projects in which Nystrom and the foundationare involved. For information, to volunteeror to donate food, clothes, money orother necessities, call the foundation at837-5205, or e-mail, orvisit the Web site at

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