Update on “A Home for Juan Manuel”

Juan Manuel Tovar Valdez

You rock! Bless you all! Thanks to your generosity we have met the budget we received from Juan Manuel and his father for a new home! But we are not done yet; please read through and do what you can. 

We have had 22 parties donate to the “Build a Home for Juan Manuel” project thus far. One person donated the 10 bags of cement and the cart of gravel, and another couple offered to help install flooring and light fixtures and help paint. You are generous! We have spoken to the albañil and are hoping he will start construction soonest. We plan to pay him directly with your kind gifts.

However, as is typical, the budget we received did not include a roof, windows, doors, flooring, toilet or sink, plumbing, paint, etc. So, we would like to raise some additional money to actually complete the house for these very deserving and wonderful men. I’d also really like to be able to build them a second room, so they’re not smooshed all day and night into one 2m x 3m room, even though they say they are ok with it.

If you could help us out by sharing the original article to your social networks with your personalized request for assistance, I believe we will be able to do this. Also, please let your friends and neighbors know so this can be a community effort. I have added an easy way for people in Canada to join in; see the payment options in the original post. If you have used but servicable windows, doors, sink, toilet, etc., we would welcome your donation! 

If you or someone you know has access to construction materials, that’s great. 

Thank you! Blessed holidays to all!

Perfect Antidote to the Pandemic!

Juan Manuel Tovar Valdez

Today I met one of the kindest, happiest and most inspirational people I’ve met in eons. I’ve also figured out how to make this Christmas merry. My hope is that you will choose to join with Yolanda Medina (from the Chicken Breakfast and DIF) and me to help Juan Manuel Tovar Valdez and his father, Rodolfo in a project we are calling, “A Home for Juan Manuel.”

Juan Manuel is a 34-year old young man who smiles from ear to ear. Diabetic since birth (he was diagnosed at two years of age), his health took a huge turn for the worse three years ago. Training as a graphic designer, his heart broke when he began to lose his sight. Renal failure then took one of his legs. Now legally blind in both eyes and walking on one leg with crutches, there is a joyful glint in Juan Manuel’s eyes and his words are all upbeat. “The sun feels so good on my face! It’s really nice to be outside in the fresh air,” he told me as he stood, masked and on crutches, this afternoon in front of the home the father and son rent in Pradera Dorada. 

DIF Certificate of Disability

Cute, colorful government-built concrete townhomes from the outside, there isn’t much inside: a sitting room, bedroom where both men sleep, and a kitchen/bath. Their main furniture is a plastic patio table and two chairs. Rodolfo, 63 years of age, normally sells funeral services door to door. COVID-19 has put a stop to that, and he finds it increasingly difficult to buy the diapers and medicines that Juan Manuel needs, in addition to food and rent. Juan Manuel’s mother died from breast cancer 21 years ago. Their younger son, married with two children, lives nearby and contributes money to his brother and father every Saturday. But it’s not enough. They pay 1200 pesos/month rent, and receive 1300 pesos/month disability plus 500 pesos/month from DIF. “We have been gifted a vacant lot in Colonia San Antonio. There, if we build a simple room to live in, we won’t have to pay rent. The savings will help so much!” Rodolfo tells me. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Rodolfo has been working for months to pay the electric and water bills on the new lot, so that as soon as he can get the funds together, the pair can build a 6-meter by 3-meter (194 square feet) room to live in. “But, Don Rodolfo, here now you have a home with a bedroom, living room and kitchen. Why do you want to build a much smaller home?” “Because we can’t keep paying rent. I can’t do that and pay the bills. Now that we have been gifted a lot on which to build, that’s the wiser choice for us going forward.”

Meeting Juan Manuel today brought me so much joy! How can I be frustrated with being shut inside when this young man—with his whole life ahead of him—had the professional skills he worked so hard for robbed from him, his eyesight and his leg taken, and he’s still happy? “I love to draw. I can draw in every medium except paint; I never mastered that. And I love baseball. I played center field. Now I’m a passionate fan, listening on the radio.” 

 

My personal hope is that you all will be so generous that Juan Manuel and Don Rodolfo will be able to build a home bigger than 18 square meters. Fortunately building a simple home here is very reasonably priced. I hope you’ll find it in your heart to help. Reality is that the father and son will be over the moon happy with their new room. “We already have electricity, and I’ve been paying our share of water to Maestra Zulema in Colonia San Antonio. In our room we can have a small kitchen as well as a bath. We can live and sleep in the same room,” Rodolfo explained to me. 

Yolanda has worked to obtain a list of the materials and labor needed to build the one-room home. If you are able and see fit, won’t you donate to help these men out?

“A Home for Juan Manuel” Budget

1500 Bricks ($2800 millar)

$4200

15 Kilos of annealed wire ($40/kg)

$525

Bags of mortar ($150/each)

$3000

10 Bags of cement ($195/each)

$1950

1 Cart of sand

$1900

1 Cart of gravel (6 meters)

$2000

10 Pieces concrete reinforcement mesh ($170)

$1700

30 x 3/8 rods ($130/each

$3900

Rent of concrete formwork

$2000 (pending confirmation) 

Concrete mixer

(Pending confirmation once the walls are up)

Materials Subtotal

$21,175

 

 

Labor

$18,000

 

 

Grand total

$39,175 pesos (approx. $2000 USD or $2500 Canadian)

Together we can do this, folks! We can make 2021 brighter for Juan Manuel and Rodolfo, and for ourselves! Giving and helping out do the heart and soul good! To donate, you have several options:

  • Click the “Donate” link in the right-hand column on this VidaMaz.com website, and pay via PayPal.
  • Go to any OXXO and donate to BanCoppel account 4169-1603-7041-0699 (photo below) in the name of Yolanda Medina.

  • Canadians who prefer to email money can send it to Jeanette Leraand: jleraand@gmail.com
  • Contact Yolanda via WhatsApp at 669 431 4529 to arrange a time to meet and give her your donation.
  • Contact me at dianne@vidamaz.com and I’ll pick up your donation.

Bogging Rocks!

The bucket lists of a surprising number of people include putting on waders to sink into a cranberry bog. So many people have told me that standing amidst the shiny red berries is one of their dreams: people from surprising places like Mexico, Iran and Japan. I’ve personally wanted to get chest-deep in that glorious, glistening redness since I was a child. My birth state, Wisconsin, grows more of the beloved tart-sweet fruit than any other place on the planet—60% of the world’s crop! 

That desire motivated us to drive through central Wisconsin this fall, and what a treat for the eyes it is! The contrasting vivid colors of the bright red cranberries among the gorgeous orange, gold and red autumn leaves and green evergreens are an incredible sight to behold! Over 18,000 acres of sunken beds are raked and flooded in the fall so that the berries can be corralled and harvested. Wisconsin cranberry farmers—still largely family owned—steward an additional 160,000 acres as adjacent wetlands, woodlands and uplands. Each acre of berries requires an additional 7-10 acres of support acreage to naturally purify and recycle the water that is so crucial to this type of farming. Huge networks of ditches, dikes, dams and reservoirs add to the iconic natural beauty of this unique region. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We were headed to the Wetherby Cranberry Company’s public harvest or “Wetherby Wade” in Warrens, Wisconsin. An independent family farm, Grandpa Jim and Grandma Nodji Van Wychen are third generation growers. Their son, Henry, and son-in-law, Michael Gnewikow, are proud members of the fourth generation. The Van Wychen’s other three children and ten grandchildren—the fifth generation—are also major contributors to the farming operation. All were present last weekend and will be again this upcoming Saturday, October 3rd from 9 am to noon for their final public harvest of the season. This is your chance to put on those waders and slide among the glistening red berries! 

The experience of being embraced by cranberries was way better than I’d even dreamed! Some of the best things in life are difficult to explain, and the wonderfulness of being in a cranberry marsh is one of them. People keep saying this is something they’ve wanted to do all their lives. That wasn’t true for Greg; he’d never even given it a thought; it wasn’t on his radar. Yet, once he got in the marsh he was blown away. As he says, “It’s like playing baseball in a cornfield, swimming with dolphins or running with the bulls. You are sharing space with nature; you can’t get any closer to a cranberry.” I was delighted to see multiple frogs jumping around on top of the floating cranberries! Next incarnation, I may just need to be born as a frog in cranberry country!

I had been a bit fearful of slipping in the marsh as I had my camera and didn’t want to get it wet. But the boots have tread that makes footing steady, and the water is only knee to thigh-high. There were quite a few small children thoroughly enjoying the Wetherby Wade. We walked down a ramp into the bed, and once inside tread carefully on the fragile vines underneath. The night before the bed had been harrowed (picked) so that the berries floated to the surface. In the early morning a bright yellow plastic boom and blowers were used to corral the berries in a bunch on one end of the bed. We then had the pleasure of walking gently around amongst them. The feeling was pure joy and delight! Amidst the laughter and exclamations of “this is so cool!” were ear to ear smiles on young and old. 

Before our experience in the beds we thoroughly enjoyed an excellent tour of the farm conducted by Nodji, who received the Master Agriculturalist award in 2014. We were able to witness a bunch of the farm equipment in action and hear her explain the ins and outs of the growing process. This is an absolutely perfect day for families! Everyone has fun and learns a bit, too. And it checks off that bucket list!

After the tour, instruction and wading in the bog we visited the farm-to-table store where we loaded up on fresh berries, dried berries, cranberry wine, raw cranberry honey and cranberry cookbooks from the local homemakers’ club. The Van Wychens gifted each of us a certificate for a free surprise at the Cranberry Discovery Center and museum in town. The gift we received there was very generous—a whole pound of dried, sweetened berries! There we bought more goodies including chocolate covered berries, cranberry bratwurst, cranberry ice cream, and we even sipped cranberry-infused coffee. Jealous? Would you like some farm-fresh berries of your own? You can order from Wetherby farm and have them shipped fresh to your table!

Agritourism has been a hugely growing industry in Wisconsin’s cranberry region, or at least it was until the COVID-19 pandemic set in. 

  • The annual Warrens Cranberry Festival, which has pumped donations of over US$2 million into local schools and community organizations since 1973 along with an economic stimulus of over US$4 million for Monroe County annually, was cancelled this year. 
  • During harvest season Nodji normally leads tours for about forty buses full of people, who all return back to the farm store to buy berries and wine. It’s a huge source of the family’s annual income but has dwindled to zero this year. 

Hundreds of visitors to the farm every year shared their disappointment with Nodji that these events had to be cancelled; they would miss their annual family trips! The Wetherby Wade was Nodji’s COVID-safe effort to maintain a bit of the area’s hard-earned agritourism market.

By all means visit if you’re able this weekend or plan on a visit next year during the Warrens Cranberry Festival. Reported to be the largest crafts festival in the world, the three-day festival and parade attract 45,000 visitors per day and 1300 vendors and is held the last weekend in September.

The Warrens region is perfect for growing cranberries, as they have the three key natural resources needed for efficient and effective production: 

  1. Natural peat soil that comprises the bottom of the beds to hold moisture and not let it escape
  2. Lots of sand to put on top of the peat for drainage
  3. An abundant water supply; in the case of Warrens’ growers this comes from the east fork of the Lemonweir River

Countries on four continents are among the world’s top producers of this agricultural gem: the USA, Chile, Belarus and Tunisia. The crop is popular worldwide and eaten fresh, dried and sweetened, as well as used for juice. The cost to grow cranberries is US$35 per 100-pound barrel or 35 cents per pound. Prices, however, have been dropping over the past few years. China has historically bought huge amounts of Wisconsin cranberries: up to 25% of total production. Due to President Trump’s retaliatory tariffs, however, bulk cranberry prices this year have dropped below cost to 15-25 cents per pound. Exports to Europe have fallen as well and are limited to dried berries, thanks to the pandemic. These hardworking farmers are losing money on their crop. While historically very proud not to receive government subsidies, the past two years the government has helped the industry by purchasing berries directly for schools, hospitals, the military and other institutions at a fair price.

 

Trivia : How do cranberries get their name? 
Sandhill cranes are a common sight in cranberry region; I absolutely love watching them, whether in flight or eating in the fields. Did you know that cranberries got their name from the sandhills? Dutch settlers and Native Americans originally called them “crane berries” because the plants in blossom look like the head and neck of a sandhill crane. 

 

We’ve all heard of cranberry bogs, but in this part of the world I heard them called marshes and more commonly beds. Standard marsh size is five acres with a width of 80 feet. Equipment is designed for this width: pesticide and fertilizer booms reach 40 feet out over the marsh from either side for efficiency. Different varieties of berries are planted in order to spread out the work: early harvest, middle and late. Wisconsin’s biggest harvest comes the first three weeks of October. 

Cranberries grow on vines in the two-to-three-foot-deep beds. The vines are perennial. On one side of a bed they are planted one direction, and on the other side the opposite, so that the vines are always facing the right way when equipment drives around the perimeter. After each fall’s harvest, the beds are emptied of berries, which rot and attract insects and disease, and frozen for the winter so that the vines can thrive again in the spring.

We went out to the Wetherby marshes for sunrise, as I wanted to take photographs of the sun’s first glistens on the bright red berries. I was so happy we went early, as just after sunrise family members showed up to begin corralling the berries. Different than raking or picking the fresh fruit, the berries in these marshes had been harrowed the night before and would today be harvested for commercial use in juice and sauce. Tractors with blower attachments and long yellow booms, along with hand blowers, were used to corral the berries towards one end of each of the marshes. I realized how “Ocean Spray” got its name watching the berries soar through the air as they were blown around! It was a whole lot of fun.

It’s encouraging to see families working hard and joyfully together, and in this region it’s not just families but the community as a whole. While they can’t share farming equipment as other farmers often do, because of the fact that they all do the same activities at the same time, I’m told that cranberry farmers freely share best practices with one another. In fact, Jim Van Wychen has invented several important pieces of machinery that he has openly shared with neighbors and colleagues instead of patenting and profiting off his expertise. He is quite the Renaissance man with a plethora of skills! Wisconsin’s 250 cranberry growers also put on a three-day cranberry school each year, where they teach about insects, weed control, and all other aspects of cranberry farming. Equipment is a major topic, as you can’t just buy cranberry farming equipment from Case or the other big dealers. Most equipment is specially made: designed and built by growers themselves. It’s what they do in the winter: maintain equipment, build new booms, refine, tinker… make their equipment better every year. As with any professional conference, we were told that the growers learn the most during the time they have between sessions, when they share their ideas.

This year’s berries, we were told, are a good size and have unusually good color. Lucky us! Nodji told us the light berries are removed from the berries picked for fresh fruit: people don’t like having white berries in their bag. Ironically, however, it’s the whites that have the most pectin, so to make jelly or jam you need those white berries for a solid gel.

Once the berries were corralled the booms were fastened into place to keep the berries where they needed to be. We then took a tour of the farm equipment on display. The first piece of equipment we saw during our tour was an original motorized picker or rake from the 1960s. Nodji’s 80-year-old cousin Chuck, who has worked with cranberries his whole life, was one of the first people in the area to own a motorized picker. He had his own beds and would also hire himself out to rake others’ marshes. Chuck explained to us that the picker or rake is used to harvest berries for fresh fruit—to be sold in grocery stores or direct from the farm. Teeth on the picker go into the vines, separating the fruit, paddles and tines lift it and then move it via conveyer belt to a small boat that is pulled alongside the picker. Less than 5% of cranberries are harvested in this way. There are cutters in the picker to catch and sever long runners; this ensures that more fruit-bearing vines will grow next year and avoids wasting energy on non-fruit-bearing runners. The picker’s motor is raised to prevent water damage. 

The second machine on display was a marsh mower, with arms that move and extend in different angles to mow and trim the dikes’ edges, ditches and roadways. It takes over a week to mow the marsh. On display was also a Yanmar tractor with a harrowing attachment on front and back. The black metal rods are mounted on a spring that creates a motion to gently knock the berries off the vine so they can float to the surface. The final piece of equipment parked for display was a tractor with a 100-foot-long fertilizer or pesticide boom. The black downspouts on this arm are evenly spaced to allow all sprays to be placed exactly where needed. It takes ten hours to fertilize the entire marsh each time as they have to circle 57 beds covering almost 200 acres of vines.

The biggest excitement of the day was when the huge berry pump drove up. It was preceded by a dump truck and followed by a semi. The berry pump was invented by Jim, the owner of Wetherby Cranberry Company, and was the first pump of its kind in Wisconsin. It sucks the berries out of the bed and then uses water and air filtration to separate the cranberries—which go into the semi, from the water—which is returned to the marsh, and the trash (leaves, grass, weeds, stems, occasionally a stick)—which goes into the dump truck. The technology is based on equipment used in fish farming, when transferring fish by size from one tank to another. The cranberries that went into the semi-trailer were 97% clean of trash—stems and leaves. Some growers still elevate the berries out of the beds with an elevator, but with that technology everything including the trash goes into the semi-trailer. 

A spray bar that extends out from the pump truck helps move the cranberries, and workers with push rakes and blowers also push the berries towards the pump’s funnel. With the berry pump it only takes an hour or two to harvest an entire bed.

The trailer holds 40,000 pounds of cranberries. The truck takes them to a receiving station where they’re sorted and made into sweetened, dried cranberries. The trash can be used for mulch. Various blueberry growers use it for their fields, and quite a few people from Madison come and get it to mulch their gardens. 

Once cleared of all berries, the beds will remain dormant until mid-December in a typical year, though sometimes till as late as Christmas. The cranberry growers want to get a series of three cold nights in a row—10 below zero Fahrenheit or colder. The farmers will bring the water level up in the bed so it covers the tips of the vines. The water will hard freeze to a solid block during those three nights, and the vines will be protected from the winter’s cold and wind. Normally eight to twelve inches of ice block is ideal—enough to protect the vines and support the weight of a dump truck. They will attach a sand spreader to the dump truck’s tailgate and drive out onto the marsh to spread a half inch layer of sand onto the top of the ice. When the ice melts in the spring the sand will settle to the bottom of the bed, which provides the multiple benefits of: keeping the bed firm for harvest equipment, burying any dead leaves, providing good natural support for the plant roots, and punching runners into the ground so that a new upright that will produce fruit will grow. Beds that are one to five years old are sanded every year; older than that and a bed gets sand every three years.

Returning home with all the farm-fresh berries, I spent a terrific time in the kitchen and at the dinner table! Our family enjoyed homemade cranberry-orange muffins, a terrific cranberry-apple chutney, cranberries jubilee over ice cream… and we still have quite a few left for other tasty delights! Thank you, Van Wychen family!

Wetherby Cranberry Company is at 3365 Auger Rd, Warrens, WI 54666, telephone 608-378-4813, email wetherby@freshcranberries.com. Cost for the marsh tour and excellent explanation is $10 ($5 for children 12 and under, kids under five years old are free), and the same prices to rent waders and enter the bed. We are in a pandemic but rest assured that the Van Wychens and staff wear masks (last Saturday I didn’t see any visitors without a mask, either), promote social distancing, sanitize the wader boots and have proper handwashing and bathroom facilities. Last weekend the event was not crowded, and we felt very safe. Definitely do not miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience, or forget to order your fresh cranberries online!

 

My 60th Birthday Photo Safari

c6e6553c-6d3e-4031-a5f7-58555357393fWe all curse COVID every chance we get. That wretched virus has hurt so many in so many ways. I was one of the lucky ones: so far it has only robbed me of the 60th birthday African photo safari that I was so looking forward to. Greg and Danny, however, arranged an amazingly marvelous and surprise substitute.

On my birthday I received a gift-wrapped safari hat and binoculars. Hmm… Then I opened a box with a laminated ticket from the local arboretum (photo above). It was for an African Photo Safari on Saturday morning at 10. What in the world could it be? The arboretum doesn’t have animals, especially not African ones. Both of the men in my life were mum; it was to be a surprise.

e9913795-cd24-4fbf-9c77-f2a90df4c9aaOn Saturday morning I packed up my camera gear and put on my sunscreen, and we went to the park. Upon arriving we suddenly started hearing sounds from the savannah! What?! Turns out the sounds were coming from a wireless speaker in Greg’s backpack. Next, Danny’s phone dinged with a text message.

“Hello, Dianne, and welcome to our private safari tour. My name is Ubiyaongashalita and I will be your guide today.”

What? No group tour? This was all planned by my two incredible dudes???!!! That professional-looking laminated ticket was a fake?! Was there really a guide? Or was Danny making this all happen? How exciting! And confusing. I sure did feel loved. And a bit skeptical…

2304f49c-5616-44a5-8424-256b211e62d7

Just like I imagine a real safari to be, the animals weren’t just waiting around like in a zoo; we needed to know their habits and habitats and search to find them. The guide instructed us via text how to locate each animal on our tour. How cool! The clues were very helpful, e.g.,

“The first animal we will look for is the monkey, a tricky animal that does not respect human laws and is always looking to steal their food.”

 

There was a nearby community garden, so I knew that monkey would be in there. But what was I looking for? A stuffed animal? My husband and son acting like monkeys? I had no clue. The first animal, therefore, was by far the most difficult to find. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

It turns out the animals I was looking for were those one-to-two inch tall kids’ toys—far from easy to spot in a huge park! More clues followed, such as:

  • “The alligator hides deep in the jungle where there are a great variety of plants, and it ‘bathes’ in lakes and lagoons.”
  • “Gorillas, being our cousins, can be very ‘handy’ using tools and making shelters.”
  • “I think now you are ready to meet the king of the jungle. He likes to rest in the shade of trees on the savannah.”
  • “The cheetah hides in bushes next to flat land. This way the cheetah can wait till an animal comes close, pouncing and sprinting after it.”
  • “Now let’s look for the brave rhino. His tusks are sharp as ‘steel,’ a ‘monument’ to strength. Rhinos can tip over cards with ease.”

To give you an idea, the alligator was in a birdbath in the middle of a flower garden; the gorilla was on a fence post in front of the tool shed; and the rhino was on a steel statue of something tipped-over. Some of the clues contained puns—that’s when I knew that Danny had written them: “Rhi-no you are loving this tour” or “The meerkat is so small we ‘meerly’ missed it!” It turns out Danny had visited the park the night before after work and placed the animals there. How did no one that morning pick up any of my treasures? I was amazed that they were all still right there, hidden in plain sight!

To get the shot I had to lay on the ground, kneel, stretch really tall, get dirty and sweaty… the photography bit was definitely realistic. Fortunately I did not have to run away from anything chasing me!

Another extremely cool aspect of the safari was that it included sightings of the Big Five: the leopard, lion, African buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros! All five in a single morning; can you imagine? Greg had very resourcefully purchased a coin for each of the Big Five animals. In the video below he presents me with the Rhino coin from Zambia.

The safari was a whole lot of fun. One of the biggest joys was watching the reaction of the people who were also enjoying the park. “What’s that sound?” “Did I hear an elephant?” The kids got so very excited! “Daddy, I hear a stampede!” Quite a few of the kids got jealous, though, which made me feel bad but was also pretty humorous: “Mom, I want a toy zebra like she just found. Let’s find some for us!”

The final animal on the safari was the elephant. The clue included these words: “In my village we commemorate the elephant with a dance, usually done in pairs. You and your husband should try it.” Of course the elephant was on the base of a statue of two dancers! Below is me doing the happy dance as I receive my final coin. Geek alert!!!  😉

After the safari we went to the only African restaurant that we could find in the Urbana-Champaign area. It was really good and the air conditioning was most welcome, too.

I still hope to make the trek to Africa and participate in a photo safari. In the meantime, however, I’ll be busy putting together a shadow box of my animals and coins! Bless you, men! I do love you dearly and am so very blessed that you are my family!

COVID Update Mazatlán 2

0a8e9588-fdf1-4599-aa96-304b31832dadI believe it’s time for an update on COVID-19 here in Mazatlán. I have been working so hard to help out and these posts take time, but I realize getting information to you is overdue. Our economies need to reopen; our people need to work to support their families. My hope is we can do so sanely, smartly, wisely, effectively.

Throughout this crisis, official figures and those reported on the ground by medical professionals have differed significantly. Doctors at our three public hospitals tell me they estimate 1000 people in Mazatlán are currently infected with COVID-19, and of that number 800 are asymptomatic. We need to take care, please; even if you are not sick, please shelter at home if you can, wear a mask when you are out and maintain a safe distance from others.

From the perspective of our public hospitals and their medical staff (ISSSTE, IMSS and the new General Hospital), we are in a horrendous crisis. The federal government has us at MAXIMUM RISK right now. While fortunately in Mazatlán we have had enough beds and equipment, the new General Hospital, for example, tells me they are running with only 30% of their normal medical staff! And during a crisis, when you’d think it would be all hands-on deck! Such under-staffing is due to some staff being infected, but more to people quitting, refusing to come to work, or taking leave and citing pregnancy or underlying conditions. There is too much work, the stress levels are through the roof, medical workers are scared, and they are dropping out in droves. The reason so many medical professionals refuse to work is because they do not have the personal protective equipment (PPEs) they need to stay safe and healthy. Their work also requires them to live separately from their families during this pandemic, if they are able, or to risk infecting loved ones if they are not careful.

The new General Hospital is running with only 30% of their normal medical staff.

Yes, I agree with many of you: the federal, state and municipal governments should be providing that gear to public hospitals. I suppose they are doing their best; it’s not my role to comment. The bottom line is that our medical staff do not have the protective gear they need. I ask them to take photos of the staff with the gear we provide them, as proof to all of you that your money goes directly to helping them. In nearly every photo taken there is at least one person without appropriate gear, risking his/her life for our welfare. It is heartbreaking.

So many of you have been doing amazing and wonderful work during this time to help out our local community. Local businesses are donating protective equipment, food and money. Many individuals have donated to Mazatlán Comparte, a volunteer position I’ve held nearly full-time for the past six weeks—100% of those donations go to buy either food for the Food Bank or medical supplies for our local public hospitals. Many of you are making masks, face shields or desk shields and donating them to those who need them, which is terrific. Others are helping out at shelters or feeding the needy. Whatever you are doing, bless you, bless you, bless you. And if you can do more, please do. Now is the time. Click any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

This crisis has brought out the best and the worst in people. For each of you who is feeding the needy, we see a grandmother kicked out of her home because her family doesn’t want to nurse her or become infected, or a single woman forced to leave her own home in a wealthy community because, instead of offering to bring their neighbor food and medical supplies, her neighbors “want to be able to walk their dogs freely without fear of contagion.” Today the first baby with COVID is in IMSS Mazatlán, but she is fortunately doing well.

How much PPE (Personal Protective Equipment for medical professionals) is needed?
A few generous people who have donated money to Mazatlán Comparte ask me, “surely you have enough equipment now?” Let me try to explain the insatiable appetite of Personal Protective Equipment. EACH medical professional on a DAILY BASIS needs:

  • 1 KN95 mask
  • 10 pairs of nitrile gloves
  • 10 pairs of latex gloves
  • 1 surgical gown
  • 1 pair of boot covers
  • 1 coverall (now we are buying reusable ones which can last up to 5 days)

Obviously, that’s quite a bit of needed gear. In one week, a medical professional will need six KN95 masks, 60 pairs of gloves, six surgical gowns and one coverall.

But the real problem comes in the quantity of people at each hospital who interact with COVID patients and thus need PPEs. At our IMSS General Hospital Zone 3, for example, on a daily basis 199 medical staff interact with COVID patients and need PPEs! That number includes 43 doctors, 97 nurses, 10 assistants, 11 social workers, 15 janitors, 12 stretcher-bearers and 11 triage doctors. That means that just ONE of our THREE main public hospitals here in town on a DAILY basis requires:

  • 200 KN95 masks
  • 2000 pairs of nitrile gloves
  • 2000 pairs of latex gloves
  • 200 surgical gowns
  • 200 pairs of boot covers
  • 200 coveralls

The new General Hospital tells me they need PPEs daily for 110 professionals who attend COVID patients. ISSSTE hospital needs PPEs for 190 professionals daily. That’s a total of 500 medical professionals who DAILY need PPEs to treat current COVID patients here in Mazatlán; the quantities are untenable.

Every day in Mazatlán’s public hospitals, 500 medical professionals need PPEs to treat COVID patients.

To put this all into perspective, with your very generous help, in April and May Mazatlán  Comparte supported local medical staff with donations of:

  • 820 KN95 masks
  • 190 coveralls
  • 37 pairs of boot covers
  • 36 boxes of 250 nitrile gloves (4500 pairs)

Today we will purchase 500 additional KN95 masks at the miraculous price right now of 104 pesos each. These donations are wonderful! There is no doubt they have saved lives. And yet, from a larger perspective, they are a sad drop in the bucket. The longer this pandemic continues, the more PPE is needed; it’s insatiable. That’s why we need to keep the curve from spiking by reopening wisely and doing what each of us can to prevent the spread of the virus.

Difficulties/Challenges with Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs)
Last time I shared with you how challenging it has been to help. Prices of many PPEs have skyrocketed, due both to demand and to greed/price-gouging (surgical gowns normally cost 30 pesos and now are up to 160 pesos each with IVA). Many of the PPEs for sale are counterfeit and won’t work properly, so we require vigilance at every step of the purchase process and verification of every shipment upon receipt by medical professionals. Finally, the PPEs can be very difficult to find, though thankfully over the past weeks that has eased a bit. We now have a stable of trusted providers who are dedicated to selling us verified protective equipment at fair prices; let’s hope that continues. The problem is that prices of some needed items can skyrocket, or become unavailable, so it’s always a challenge. And the needs vary, too, as material is received from federal, state and municipal authorities. At Mazatlán Comparte we give the PPEs that the hospitals most need at the moment to the hospitals that are most in need. During a week ISSSTE might receive a shipment of coveralls and not need them for a couple of weeks, while IMSS might be in desperate need of masks that we can provide.

The second challenge has been in getting the PPEs to those in need. Unbelievably, especially in the beginning, there were medical professionals who resold some of the donations received (none of Mazatlán Comparte’s, thanks to careful teamwork), or handed them out to their friends at work rather than just to those working with COVID patients. At Mazatlán Comparte, we have team members from the IMSS, ISSSTE and new General Hospitals who are in charge of COVID professionals and who ensure the PPEs we provide are used for exactly the purpose intended.

Protect a Medical Professional for One Week: 2500 pesos. That amount will purchase everything that person needs for a week of work: hooded, reusable coverall, KN95 masks, nitrile and latex gloves, surgical gowns and boot covers.

How Can You Help?

  1. Please wear a mask when you are out and about, as the government recommends. This protects you and those around you. Please wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer.
  2. Please do not use medical grade equipment for non-medical uses! Using medical-grade overalls and KN95 face masks to spray bleach on the malecón or to sanitize cars is overkill and deprives our medical personnel of vital material. Neither is required for day-to-day use by normal people like you and me. If you have medical-grade material, please consider donating it to a hospital.
  3. Maintain social distance as the government recommends. Stay vigilant that the bank you go to, the restaurant you’re visiting, are following sanitary protocols and, if not, get out of there.
  4. Reach out to neighbors who are alone; offer to bring them what they might need.
  5. Stay calm and centered; don’t give in to fear. This is a virus; an infection is very painful, but what we are doing is trying to prevent the curve from spiking. We want to reopen our economies, resume our lives, but let’s do so smartly.
  6. Donate: Mazatlán Comparte has systems in place to ensure that the PPEs we buy are functional. We also get better prices, due to buying in quantity and coordinating amongst multiple hospitals and cities. KN95 masks, for example, have varied in price to us from between 121 and 71 pesos per mask, while they tend to be much costlier on the open market. We buy reusable medical-grade hooded coveralls for 350 pesos each; again, much higher on the open market.

Protect a Medical Professional Campaign
Mazatlán Comparte has a new campaign: Protect a Medical Professional. There are several options. The amounts below will purchase everything that person needs for a week of work: hooded, reusable coverall, KN95 masks, nitrile and latex gloves, surgical gowns and boot covers. Remember that just in Mazatlán’s public hospitals, we need PPEs for 460 medical professionals every week!

  • For one month: 10,000 pesos
  • For one week: 2500 pesos

Or, you can help by donating smaller amounts. A week of the following for one medical professional:

  • Surgical gowns: 1120 pesos
  • KN95 masks: 700 pesos
  • Reusable hooded coverall: 350 pesos

Or, one surgical gown and a pair of boot covers (for one professional for one day): 200 pesos

To donate for medical gear: Donate to Hospice Mazatlán, I.A.P. with the comment “Mazatlán Comparte” to distinguish that your donation goes to combat COVID-19. http://www.hospicemazatlan.org/donativos/

To donate food: Donate to Banco De Alimentos Mazatlán Iap with the comment “Mazatlán Comparte” to indicate that your donation go to COVID-19 relief. https://www.paypal.me/BAMXMAZATLAN

Other Ideas
Mazatlán Comparte is also thinking to do a series of online auctions. That could be fun for everyone involved. Might you have a skill that you could share? Say, cooking a gourmet dinner for four people, and we will deliver it to the purchaser? Or maybe your company could donate something it provides? Cases of wine, kilograms of coffee, boxes of frozen shrimp and scallops? If you do, please let me know.

Bless you all! I know many retired folks are on fixed incomes and find it difficult to help. Many of you help friends and family. Whatever you do, thank you! I pray you stay healthy and well, and that as a community we become stronger together!