Helping Hands series – Despensas on a Mission

2021/2022 John Chalmers

By John Chalmers on the Winter 2021/2022 Edition


México never ceases to impress me with amazing experiences and giving me cause to admire the generosity of folks who care for those who are less fortunate. On January 2, I had the opportunity to learn more about this country and see community support at work for people in need.

With Bob Strynadka, a friend from our home in Canada, my car was put into service as the last of a three-vehicle convoy to delivery large despensas (food bags) of non-perishable food to residents of Chacala, a small mountain town of about 1,100 residents located at 400 meters above sea level. Reached by a good two-lane paved road, even though Chacala is only some 50 km inland from Manzanillo, it is about a 90-minute scenic drive, as the road is a winding and hilly route with topes frequently encountered that keep driving speed to a safe level!

Our little convoy was led by Thomas Martinez, a family physician best known in the Manzanillo area as Dr. Tom. His four door Jeep was so packed with despensas that there was barely enough room left for his wife, Reyna, and eight-year old daughter, Mila. Between my car and the Jeep was the one of Bev and Jim Woods, fellow residents at Vida del Mar, whose SUV was likewise loaded with despensas.

Upon arriving at Chacala, we were met by Lorena, a pharmacy manager in Manzanillo, who directed us throughout the town to hand out donated food. She also served as driver of the truck owned by her and her husband into which we loaded all the despensas for distribution.

Staples included were oatmeal, rice, beans, corn flour, animal crackers, canned tuna, sugar, salt and chiles. Each bag weighed over 12 kilograms, or about 27 pounds, at a cost of 281 pesos each. A list of goods to be provided had been given to the supplier, who then prepared the bags for distribution.

The food is provided by Manzanillo Migrant Mission, a 100% volunteer group of American and Canadian snowbirds and people from the Manzanillo area. It is 100% supported by donations. This year, for the first time, a Rotary Club helped out, with generous financial support. The Crossroads Rotary Club of Kitsap County in Washington state contributed $3,500. It was matched by the club’s regional organization for a total of $7,000 to support the operation.

At first glance, that amount may seem as a large sum. However, the rising cost of food brought about by rising costs of production, transportation and processing, as well as a large and growing need, means that donations remain vital.

Lastyear, 1,697 food bags, weighing a total of about 42,000 pounds, were donated. To see how you can contribute and support, visit the very informative web site of the Manzanillo Migrant Mission at

As we drove at a walking pace through Chacala on cobble stone roads, dispensing parcels from the truck, residents came out to receive their gifts of food. Many of the some 240 homes there are very modest in structure and appearance, an obvious indication of the situation in which residents live. Not all have “sanitary installations,” but most have electricity and are connected to a public water supply.

Located in the state of Jalisco, the Chacala we visited is not to be confused with the town of the same name, located on the Pacific coast in the state of Nayarit, about 100 km north of Puerto Vallarta. “Our” Chacala is not a tourist destination!

When handing out the parcels, young Mila was the hardest working member of the crew! She was eager to deliver the
heavy bags, which weigh about half as much she does! As she speaks English at home with her father, she was fluent in my language and thus was easy to talk to as we got to know each other. Another hard-working youngster in the crew, who is from Chacala, was 10-year old Isidro, a nephew of our guide and truck driver, Lorena. He, too, was very helpful with the deliveries, keen to be at work with us.

Following deliveries in the morning, we were welcomed to the home of Lorena’s parents, where we were served a truly Reyna Mexican lunch. On trips like this, Bob and I always travel with cerveza fria in our coolers, which went down well with the tortillas, frijoles, salsa and cerdo!

Chiapas and Guerrero, living on site in shelters at the fields during the growing season. An immediate response was made to the needs of those low paid workers and thus the Manzanillo Migrant Mission began its support, providing food and other items such as blankets.

During the afternoon, our deliveries in Chacala were completed for the 160 bags of carefully packaged and generously donated food staples. To finish our trip, we adjourned to the nearby Rio Chacala, which flows beneath a huge bridge, winding its way among the gigantic granite rocks of the river valley. A swimming area at a wide still water area of the river was the perfect place to conclude our work with a refreshing dip or swim.

Chacala was not the only town to be helped early this year. To date this season, 684 despensas have been provided to
Tecoman, El Naranjo and Santiago. Others to receive assistance soon are Melaque, Cihautlan, El Chavarin, Centinela, El Rebalse, Miramar, Marabasco, Chandiablo, and La Cienega. The Manzanillo Migrant Mission expects about 1,000 more despensas will be provided to families in need at those locations.

Overall, the day at Chacala was another experience that has enriched my life with a look at how other people live, and a chance to see the compassion and humanity that people exhibit when embracing and caring for others.






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