This spring two members of the San Carlos community began what became a movement of sorts in this tiny town. As businesses were forced to close the greatest threat to the community was not the virus but the fact that 90% of the hard-working people in this area make a living doing just that, working extremely hard. Gardeners, plumbers, fishermen, construction workers, wait staff, cooks, farmers, retail workers, street vendors, marina crews, hotel staff, etc. make residing in San Carlos very special. For their diligence these folks often earn about 300 pesos a day which equates to just under $14 USD. On Fridays many of these people are paid in cash which they use to support themselves and their families for the week. When those pesos vanished, there was limited support from the Mexican government. No stimulus checks, no unemployment, nada. Greg and Elizabeth Hovey saw a need and stepped up to help.
In their normal lives, this pair owns Rancho Pitahaya, a dragon fruit farm just outside of San Carlos. They grow beautiful fruits and sell them to grocers in the US. In the cooler months they offer tours of the farm and a nearby cactus forest. Tours include history of the farm, dragon fruit drinks, a bumpy and entertaining ride through the desert and end with a delicious dinner prepared by the couple. Additionally, on Saturday mornings Greg and Elizabeth sell their own wares along with a collection of fruits and veggies from neighboring organic farms at the Rescate (rescue) Market. This is a vendor based market at which sellers donate funds toward the town EMT services. Upon moving here I thought it was an odd combination not unlike a Dry Cleaner/Fish Market I remembered from a commercial several years back but it is a partnership I’ve come to understand works well in this little town. It’s obvious that this couple has supported the community in the past but there was a new need in town and they immediately took initiative.
With virus guidelines, the Rescate Market could no longer allow vendors to set up or customers to gather. Within a week, Greg and Elizabeth moved their green business online. San Carlos Fruits and Veggies sprouted. Just place an online order by midnight Tuesday and do a drive through pick up Saturday morning. The online options include everything from pineapple to poblano peppers, tomatoes to turmeric, sweet potatoes to Swiss chard and cantaloupe to cabbage. There are also specialty items of homemade guacamole, mango salsa, farm fresh cheeses and fresh squeezed OJ. Yummy, fresh, organic goodness. The first week of operation, San Carlos Fruits and Veggies asked for 50 founding members to make the service viable. With 80+ clients on week one they were off and running.
The first Saturday of delivery arrived and strict protocols were in place to keep patrons safe and secure. Masks were required for pick up. Pull up and announce your name to the “man in the mask”. He relays the name to distribution to locate the order. Reaching the front of the line, lower your window and once again provide your last name to Greg who is standing 10 feet away. Pop the trunk while Elizabeth double checks the order. The bounty is loaded into the back of the vehicle and Greg approaches and pesos enclosed in a ziplock bag are handed out the window. Long tongs are used to retrieve the baggie and dropped into a basket for later sanitization. No change is provided. Buyers drive off with notions of how to prepare the fresh, deliciousness bouncing through their minds. Meanwhile, Greg and Elizabeth sanitize the area as the next vehicle nears. A true symphony of smoothness.
How does this new online business help the community? Originally, Greg and Elizabeth intended to assist three area orphanages during this time. The order form offers patrons a “Donate to Our Orphanage” option. This selection makes a direct donation of fruits and veggies to these care facilities. However, the “no change provided” part of the process comes into play. All overages in payment go to help as well. But what really tops it off is the fact that all monies collected are matched 3X by Greg and Elizabeth. The first week $185 USD was raised. That amount goes a very long way when a “double handful” of carrots is about $1.75. While buyers enjoyed healthy purchases the children received nourishing, free additions to what the orphanages already provided.
In addition to what Greg and Elizabeth started, other organizations, individuals and churches pitched in to provide for as many groups of people as possible. The Community COVID-19 Food Relief Program began. It was a true collaboration by many working together to solve a common problem but working apart to serve as many people as possible. Most monetary donations were collected via PayPal which allowed San Carlos snowbirds who had flown north to the states the opportunity to contribute from afar. Feed San Carlos emerged from what San Carlos Fruits and Veggies had started. With donations of $10 – $100 USD coming in other needs could be met. There were widows, elderly couples and families with no means of income, provided with hot meals prepared using the produce Greg and Elizabeth provided.
What launched as helping orphanages and feeding 60 families escalated to helping out 125 by the second week, which blossomed to 250 the third week and 450 a month into the shutdown of businesses due to the pandemic. About 100 individuals who call San Carlos home were chipping in to help those going hungry.
Another door opened when three owners of fishing boats offered their crews and vessels for deep sea fishing trips. Raffle tickets were sold via PayPal for $20 each. Fishing trips for the winners would be arranged once boating resumed in San Carlos. The money collected from the raffle was designated to go toward feeding families of the fishermen in San Carlos as well as the neighboring town of Guaymas. For three weeks entry slips were placed into a giant clam shell for Facebook Live drawings by Greg. Each raffle brought in close to $1000. The landslide from the San Carlos Fruits and Veggies initiative just kept growing.
As the donations continued to pour in and those who could be assisted grew the process for providing food for needy families changed. The mass of fruits and vegetables had to be collected, sorted, bagged and distributed. Volunteers provided trailers, trucks, muscle and time. Produce was collected from various farms and distributors on Tuesday mornings and brought to a location where an army of masked volunteers unloaded 3 – 4 tons…yes tons…of food. Pantry despensa bags were filled via assembly line. Not only did the bags contain produce but dry goods of rice, beans, oil, pasta, salt and milk were added. Each family received 20 – 25 pounds of food weekly.
By week three the Stay Safe at Home doldrums were rising in everyone. San Carlos Fruits and Veggies devised a plan to lighten the mood during Saturday morning pick up. Vehicles were met by a caped crusader.
An interestingly dressed luchadore, Mexican wrestler, approached my Jeep Grand Cherokee with pizzazz. The mighty “Corona Demon” spun and flexed as he victoriously sleeper slammed the fresh squeezed orange juice, drop kicked the butternut squash, cobra clutched the spinach leaves and pulled the Swiss chard into an iron claw chokeslam. His virus booty shorts quickly went…viral. The superhero‘s images quickly flooded the internet waves of San Carlos. Who was that masked man having his way with the organic wares? Greg Hovey of course. Noticeably absent this particular Saturday morning was Elizabeth. Perhaps she had decided to sit out the parking lot “Main Event” while her significant other dazzled drivers. As the back hatch of my car fastened shut the result was a clear clean finish for the Corona Demon.
In late May a few businesses began to reopen, while many others were not allowed. San Carlos Fruits and Veggies made sure the final despensas would last two weeks. That Tuesday seven tons of produce arrived. With that amount of produce and dry goods the despensas to families could double in size. For five back breaking hours I sweated alongside many other San Carlos residents filling despensa bags. My station was oranges which were provided by a local farm. They arrived via an overflowing pick up truck. I found myself standing across from a man named Alán who would be receiving food that day. He had arrived at noon to make sure he didn’t miss out on the 3:00pm despensa pick up time. As he unloaded oranges, carried crates, opened boxes of milk and hoisted bags from table to table he wore a constant smile. There were other recipients working as well but Alán was a noticeably cheerful, talkative, curious guy. Even with a limited common language I learned that his normal job was to clean cars and help people with their carts outside a grocery store and that his mother was a housekeeper. They lived together with several family members and none could currently work. He had taken the bus into San Carlos from his home in Guaymas to attempt to get food for the family. San Carlos Fruits and Veggies/Feed San Carlos would provide him with two despensas for his family members. Alán loaded his bags into two large produce crates which he then stored under the table. Instead of leaving with what drew him to San Carlos he continued working. While he was excited to take this haul to his family as a show of his own gratefulness he wanted to help provided others with food.
First the trucks for the orphanages were loaded with onions, squash, potatoes, oranges, apples, and more. Off they rumbled with their loads for the children. Fishermen arrived via truck, motorcycle, bicycle and even by foot to receive their bounty. The lead fisherman crossed off the names on his list to guarantee all received despensas. The happiness on their faces manifested as they collected their bags. Others in need came waiting patiently in turn. A sense of reverence came across me as I watched the looks on the faces of people as they realized how much nourishment they would collect that day. All along, Alán continued to pitch in. One of the organizers noticed this conscientiousness and came to tell Alán if he could wait until the end of the distribution there would more than likely be food items left for the taking. His smile broadened but then quickly shrunk as he processed getting the treasured load home. He would have no way to carry so much food once he departed the bus near his home. Upon understanding this, volunteers formulated a plan. Unbeknownst to Alán a collection to provide a taxi was quickly taken. He could carry as much food as possible back to his family and friends. He beamed and said, gracias over and over. His final words as my friend and I left that afternoon were, “Mis amigas por siempre.” My friends forever said it all.
A San Carlos couple identified a worrisome situation. Their swift actions resulted in a landslide of altruistic behavior. It is uplifting to witness the actions of people being present, demonstrating empathy, having open-minds, showing persistence, and sharing generously to make a real difference in the lives of people they don’t really know. With San Carlos Fruits and Veggies, Greg and Elizabeth led the way for many to experience selflessness that will not soon be forgotten.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across waters to create many ripples.”– Mother Teresa