Two-pound bags of rice, beans and sugar, a four-pound bag of sopa, two cans of tuna, chicken and tomato bouillon, a bottle of cooking oil and a container of salt are placed in large clear bags.
Then a large bag of animal crackers is placed on top and a list of local Spanish community resources and a small piece of paper advertising the businesses that made it possible are placed inside.
The bags are tied and placed on a table inside Don Chuy/La Mexicana in downtown Seymour until they are loaded into vehicles and delivered to local Latino families in need.
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Each of the past two weeks, more than 80 bags have been distributed.
It’s all an effort between six local Latino small businesses: Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant, Unidos Mini Mart, Don Chuy/La Mexicana, Taco Mix Restaurant, Mexico Chiquito and Morales Supermercado and Taqueria.
The idea came from Jesus Zuniga, owner of Don Chuy/La Mexicana. Despite his business being the only one of the six shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zuniga felt called to bring everyone together.
He said his business being closed since March 17 has been a little hard but not impossible, and he realizes people are struggling in various ways.
“We try and help the people as needed because we have something. Some people don’t have anything,” he said.
He shared the idea with Connie Hernandez, who owns Mi Casa with her husband, Martin, and she contacted other business owners.
“Connie is a very, very good friend,” Zuniga said. “This pandemic situation, this is not easy for everybody. It’s a little hard for everybody. We can make a little union for all of us to participate. If we don’t have a union, there’s no power. Unity is power.”
Connie said all of the local Latino businesses were asked to participate, and she was glad to get six on board.
“It was awesome because it was automatic, ‘Yes, whatever you need,’” she said. “If they weren’t at a meeting, they sent a message, ‘Whatever you decide, we’re 100% behind you.’ It’s neat to see all of us come together for this.”
It’s a way for the businesses to give back and say thanks to the customers who support them throughout the year, including during this pandemic.
“I always love to give back. That’s a big thing,” Connie said. “We talked about it in our meetings. … If you’re not going to do it from your heart, then we don’t want you to be a part of it because we want to be united, and you can’t fight this if you’re not together as a team. Either you give with your whole heart or you don’t give at all, and when you give, God always blesses it a trillion times.”
The six businesses contribute monetarily, and that’s used to buy all of the essential foods from a supplier. Each week, the food is delivered to Zuniga’s business, and it’s placed in the front of the store for volunteers to place in bags.
“We’re going to keep doing it as long as it’s needed,” Connie said.
In a half-hour this past Thursday, 10 volunteers had the bags packed and ready to be delivered.
Emir Gonzalez, owner of Unidos Mini Mart, was among the business owners helping.
“I think it’s very important to be united in situations like this that were obviously completely unexpected,” he said. “For me personally, I think it’s a way to say ‘thank you’ to the community and to let them know that they are not alone and we’re here with them together to support everything. We feel good being a part of this activity.”
The business owners all know each other, and the project has brought them closer together.
“I think it’s a sense of fulfillment in a way that we all have the same mindset, that we think alike in terms of how we feel about the community,” Gonzalez said. “If it’s within our reach because we’re able to help, we’re going to do it. It’s very satisfying in that sense.”
It’s also nice being able to help customers who support the businesses, he said.
“We want them to have a sense of comfort and a sense of support, that they don’t feel overwhelmed with all of the information and all of the lack of income and everything else,” Gonzalez said.
Five youth were among the volunteers helping pack the food bags Thursday.
That included Connie and Martin’s sons, Joshua, Jacob and Isaiah Hernandez.
“I thought it was cool how all of the Mexican restaurants and businesses were coming together to do this for the people who don’t have jobs or lost their jobs due to all of this, and I thought it would be a great idea to always pitch in,” Jacob, 16, said of why he chose to help. “It makes me feel great that I can still give back to the community even though we’re on a shutdown.”
While he can’t physically be with the recipients of the food, Jacob said it’s good to know it’s helping feed families.
“I hope it makes them feel that they are loved because some people during all of this feel lost or they feel sad because they don’t know what tomorrow holds,” he said. “It’s like, ‘God’s got you, he’s by your side 24/7 and this food is going to get you through it. This is just a phase and it’s going to pass by, and then everything is going to go back to normal.’”