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In Tapachula, Mexico, Hot Meals Feel Like Home

For some of us, choosing to leave home to start a new life in a different city is an exciting opportunity. But for others, leaving everything you’ve ever known to go somewhere unknown is a last resort. For those fleeing war, poverty, or violence, being vulnerable and far from home is especially hard during the holidays.

 A couple of minutes ago, I was praying and begging to God so that -he can send someone to give us food, and here you are. God sent you here.

said an exhausted father who recently arrived at the spot where we distributed meals.

This past December, hundreds of refugees had to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Tapachula’s streets, unprotected from the hot, humid rainy season hugging the Mexican – Guatemalan border. In a scene reminiscent of Mary and Joseph in the manger, families with newborn babies, toddlers, and teens spent countless nights on a curb outside a shelter because there was no more room inside. “We have been here for weeks,” recounted a displaced Venezuelan sleeping on the ground. “We have gone days without eating. Sometimes, it’s even hard to sleep because we have to take care of each other through the night.”

Answered Prayers

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, Preemptive Love and Los Vennez Cafe & Restaurante, a local restaurant in Tapachula run by a Venezuelan named Dennys, prepared something special to bring a little bit of joy to those staying on the streets. You made it possible for us to bring 200 Venezuelan dishes of pabellón criollo, a satisfying meal of white rice, shredded, stewed beef, black beans, grated cheese, and fried plantain, and 100 thirst-quenching papelón drinks made from panela water (unrefined whole cane sugar) and lemon.

“Thank you for making us feel like we are back home,”

said a group of six men lying on the side of the road, their makeshift home assembled from cardboard boxes and blankets.

“Thank you for coming. God has answered my prayers,” said an exhausted father who recently arrived at the spot where we distributed meals. “We have been walking for days with my wife and my children. One of them got sick along the way, and we had to buy him medicine. We also got robbed, so we couldn’t afford to buy food. My family hasn’t eaten in days. All we have had is water. Thank you for coming. A couple of minutes ago, I was praying and begging to God so that -he can send someone to give us food, and here you are. God sent you here. Thank you so much,” he explained while tears escaped his eyes and a smile formed on his face. 

We continued distributing meals in the street, making sure everyone had one. “Thank you for making us feel like we are back home,”  said a group of six men lying on the side of the road, their makeshift home assembled from cardboard boxes and blankets. “Please come back tomorrow,” someone else said as we finished giving out the meals. 

Empowering Local Partners

We are honored to partner with and empower local partners like Dennys and his family because when we pay it forward, honoring and respecting the different cultures of any community, we also empower that community.Los Vennex Cafe & Restaurante is more than just any local restaurant. It was started by Venezuelan migrants who understood from experience how the people we were serving felt.

The political, economic, and social hardships in Venezuela convinced Dennys to accept a work visa in Mexico in 2016. Over the next two years, more of his family joined him with the hope of finding what we all want: educational opportunities, access to health care, and a stable job. In 2018, the family started a small restaurant serving arepas, a corn griddle cake popular in Venezuela and Colombia. In the beginning, the business offered only catering services and to-go orders. Working hard paid off, and in 2020, amidst the beginning of the pandemic, the family opened a full-service restaurant.

Dennys had seen an opportunity and a need. Mexicans were interested in tasting Venezuelan dishes, and many Colombians lived in Tapachula at that time, craving the taste of home. The restaurant provided the opportunity to showcase Venezuelan culture and bond with the local community.

Manuel, Manuel’s father Manuel, and his brother-in-law Dennys outside their restaurant Vennez. Photo by Haniel Lopez for Preemptive Love.

Dennys has been an accountant, designer, musician, and beautician, but he only had a little experience in cooking other than for family members. Starting the restaurant helped the family discover new abilities and strengths within themselves. While many people think of Mexico as a stop in their journey to reach the United States, this family saw the wonders Tapachula offered: a moving economy, new favorite food, new friends, but above all, the possibility to grow and thrive.

We might not be able to help everybody. We might not even see immediate proof of the help we give others. But by trusting and lending a hand to those in need, we are placing the first stepping stones of peacebuilding around the world.