San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Donations Flow into Shantytown’s Kitchen

Although it may appear heaven sent, the money that will feed approximately 250 impoverished children of the Triángulo de Solidaridad shantytown in Tibás, north of San José, will come from Miami, Florida.

Catholic priest Luis Gonzalo Mateo and a group of women from Triángulo de Solidaridad founded the community kitchen that provides the kids one full, balanced meal a day. Starting this month, the kitchen will receive a monthly donation of $1,000 from Gray & Sons Jewelers in Miami Beach, Florida.

The money will come from a group of eight employees from the jewelry store, who were inspired by a Tico Times article entitled “Community Kitchen Helps Feed Poor Youth” (TT, May 5).

According to Father Mateo, three other readers called him in the past two weeks and made  onations that include a secondhand refrigerator. The refrigerator allows the group of approximately 20 women, who rotate cooking duty each weekday, to keep food in the kitchen rather than having to take it elsewhere for refrigeration, the priest said.

Keith Gray, owner of Gray & Sons, contacted Father Mateo last week and transferred the first $1,000 to the priest May 10, Gray said in a phone interview from Miami.

“When we saw how many children (were being fed) and the incredible difference one man could make, we thought, wow, there is a project we want to help,” said Gray, explaining that he was on the look-out for a charitable project when he read The Tico Times article.

Regardless of the amount his employees donate each month, Gray explained, the store will make up the difference to ensure a total of $1,000 is sent each month.

He said the group of employees, four of whom plan to visit Costa Rica and the community kitchen in July, expect to continue their assistance for “as long as he (Father Mateo) is doing what he’s doing.”

Mateo, who moved to Costa Rica approximately a year and a half ago from his home country of Spain, has several plans for the monthly donation, which he said has taken him out of the scrape he was in to raise money for food.

As long as he receives the Miami assistance, he will no longer have to seek the donations of approximately $300-400 he used to collect each month to buy food for the community kitchen, and will be able to focus his energy on other projects.

“This gesture of such solidarity has pulled me out of my anguish. With this help, the kitchen can sustain itself,” he said.

Improvements Planned

The priest said that aside from using the money from Gray & Sons to buy food for the kitchen each month, he plans to invest some in fixing the house that hosts the comedor.

The house, provided by a family who sleeps on its second story, is a colorful but rickety structure where water seeps into the sleeping area during the rainy season, according to Father Mateo.

With the jewelry store donation, he said he might fix the ceiling and build more solid columns to support the steel frame that holds the second floor, he said. He might also invest in cooking utensils and furniture to outfit the comedor, whose dining room is also used for Bible workshops.

In addition to the monthly aid and the refrigerator, donated by a Russian-Costa Rican couple from San Pablo, in the province of Heredia, Father Mateo also received $100 from a British visitor.

Terry Thomas, a social worker for St. Mungos organization for the homeless in London,  ccompanied Mateo to the community kitchen to see his work and told The Tico Times living conditions at Triángulo de Solidaridad, where homes are made of tin and boards, practically constitute homelessness (see Thomas’ letter on page 25).

Last weekend, Father Mateo received a donation he described as humorous, of approximately $200 in coins, from a North American identified only by his first name Thomas, who had been storing his change for some time in a jar.

Despite receiving assistance to secure the community kitchen project, Father Mateo said he does not plan to kick back and relax.

His next project is to raise funds to buy lots for the many families evicted from La Candela, a former shantytown west of San José, whose grounds belong to the private, Mexico-based Banex bank (TT, April 21, April 28).

Residents of La Candela have already collected approximately ¢120,000 ($240) from raffles and donations for this purpose, according to Father Mateo.

Donations for La Candela can be made to Catholic charitable organization Caritas’ Banco Nacional account, number 82188-4. For more information on how to help, contact Father Mateo (who left for Spain this week to perform two family weddings and expects to return in late June) or Father José Vidal at 222-5057.

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