María furiously swings her cane, over and over, beating on the defenseless form at her feet while we stand in a circle around her and watch with a mixture of respect and a touch of alarm at her energetic, almost frantic, efforts to rip open the piñata.
While the concept of volunteering is not as evident here as it is north of the border, México does have a long tradition of individuals and social organizations responding to help those in need; particularly through the church. Of late, as more and more people find themselves in need, more and more individuals, organizations, and even private companies have stepped forward to provide relief.
She looks up, her hair wildly out of place, and flashes us a huge toothless grin. She has succeeded where the tender fists of the few children who had come to the Refettorio’s first Christmas brunch had not. Candies now lie strewn about, and everyone – young and old – scrambles on all fours to grab their share. Everyone loves a Piñata!
The latest entry into the world of social assistance from the private sector is a joint venture involving non-profits including Italian chef Massimo Bottura’s Food for Soul and our very own Fundación Palace Resorts. In a meticulously restored colonial mansion in the heart of Mérida’s Centro, a space has been designed to provide those who need it with a dignified and communal place to eat healthy, beautiful three-course meals served by volunteers. There is art on the walls, and silverware on the tables. Meals are planned, based on what donations have been acquired and how they can be combined in a nutritious and attractive way. Each plate, as designed by chef José Ángel Zamudio, rivals anything you will find at any of Mérida’s finest restaurants, both in presentation and in deliciousness.
As the children and the adults return to their seats, a small band plays music and a few of the people get up to dance. Many of the guests, homeless or in otherwise precarious situations, are able to enjoy a moment free of tension, worry, and hardship. The Refettorio is a place where they not only enjoy a first-class meal, but also have the opportunity to take a shower with fresh soap and clean towels, obtain a change of clothes if necessary, and even, on certain days, get a haircut.
All of this is possible through the support of the Palace Resorts and the logistical backing of Food for Soul. A minimal staff under the expert supervision of Claudia Bolio runs the operation and the active participation of dozens of volunteers – in the kitchen and in the dining room – provide the hands that ensure the work gets done.
Since opening this past year, in the middle of a very unplanned pandemic, the Refettorio has served over 21,000 plates of food, reclaimed over 8 tons of food, organized the participation of over 100 volunteers, supported 34 organizations with donations, and registered and attended over 350 individuals in need in Mérida’s Centro Histórico.
If you have the time and the inclination, helping out at the Refettorio is a great way to give back to the community and assist those who need it most.
See their website for details and contact information.
Calle 60, Centro, Mérida
Editorial by Ralf Hollmann
Author of Modern Yucatan Dictionary
Founder of Mayan Xic
Director of Lawson’s Original Yucatán Excursions
Photography by Claudia Bolio for use in Yucatán Today.
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