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'Despensa Solidaria' aims to help immigrants get healthy food

The nonprofit Presente Maine sets up biweekly solidarity food pantries for anyone in need, especially for Hispanic community members and other immigrants.

PORTLAND, Maine — "Despensa Solidaria" is an effort that started when COVID-19 hit as a way for people in need to access the healthy and nutritious food they needed. 

"I had contacted several hundred people in the community, asking them to stay home, and they said, 'If I don't go to work I'll die anyway, because I won't be able to feed my family.' And so it started as a door-to-door delivery," Crystal Cron, president of Presente Maine, said.

The focus was to serve community members from Latin and Hispanic countries, like Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico. The resource has expanded to any immigrant who needs healthy food and anyone who stops by.

On the second and fourth Fridays of the month, a big U-Haul parks right in front of the Portland Expo on Park Avenue, opens its hood, and volunteers assemble a line where people check in, grab a cart if they need one, and fill it in for free with the food they need.

🌸 At our third warm-season despensa, we extended our deepest gratitude and support to all the incredible mothers in our...

Posted by Presente Maine on Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Food items like rice, fruits, veggies, a protein option, toiletries, pampers for babies, COVID tests, and other resources are available.

"We usually have over 350 people that come weekly," Cron said.

Ana Maribel Diaz is from Honduras but said she has called Maine home for a year and a half. Diaz said she left her country looking for a safer place to live for her and her daughters, as Honduras is known for having one of the highest crime and murder rates in the world.

"Es muy beneficioso, nos ayuda bastante en lo economico porque las cosas que nos dan aqui, pues nos ayuda bastante, nosotros ya no las compramos," dijo Diaz. "We benefit a lot from this pantry. It helps us a lot financially because this means we don't have to buy the things they give us here, and that helps us a lot," Diaz explained.

Cron said something new they are giving families is a grocery-style cart for them to be able to easily push their groceries to where they live, as most people don't have transportation and walk to and from their houses.

"People are getting driven out of their apartments, and their expendable income is less and less and less, and with the cost of food going up, and everything else. People rely on these biweekly food pantries, and we see more people coming every time," Cron said.

For Diaz and her two daughters, this resource is one less thing she has to worry about.

"Muy feliz!" "Por que esta contenta?" "Pues tengo una vida estable," dijo Diaz. "I'm very happy!" "Why?" "Well, because I have a stable life."

Cron said most of the food comes from the Good Shepherd Food Bank, and a lot is freshly grown at their own garden in Greene. Cron added, for her, this work is personal.

"I grew up poor," she said. "I moved to Maine when I was 5 and struggled. Me and my family struggled to meet our own basic needs, and I really feel that the only ones that are going to save us are ourselves. I am privileged to have command of the English language and citizenship here, and the system is still hard to navigate that way, so I feel like it's my duty to leverage those skills to help others, because I can't stand by and witness all of the struggles and barriers that people in my community face and do nothing."

Click here if you would like to support Presente Maine in their efforts, or if you'd like to learn more about some of their other services.

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