Operation Christmas 2021

“Why did you decide to do the Christmas baskets?” My sister asked during a facetime call; I am not going to lie, I was a little hurt by her question. Did she not think I was capable of doing nice things? After exchanging a few more words, she added, “I just wanted to understand your why.”

As many of you already know, El Salvador is a huge soft spot for me. I have found ways to help from a very young age. I will attribute most of it to my parents; they often volunteered me and my services to help the community be it interpreting, filling out forms, or fundraising; before I knew it, the obligation turned into a passion.

I have been living in El Salvador for over a year now, and I can say I feel like I belong to this community. A few days ago, I had food poisoning, and all my friends came over to check on me. Two of them went through all the mom-and-pop shops looking for Pedialyte, so I would be hydrated. This is just one example of how everyone looks out for everyone.

I love my community; they are selfless and have ALWAYS been there for me. In return, I wanted to be there for my community.

President Bukele sent government workers to distribute boxes with “essential goods” in late April. I was able to get a box myself and saw all things they included- why is this important? This was the guide I used to decide what to include in the baskets. I didn’t need the items in the box, so I gave them away. This helped me realize what items were valuable- what items people wanted and the most likely items to remain unused.

There have been many changes in the country in the past 12 months. For the first time in years, the minimum wage went up. It went from $320 to $360 a month, but as usual, so did the cost of living. In passing conversations with my neighbors, they complained about how expensive the propane gas is, how their electric bill has gone up, and how it is getting harder to live a sustainable life in the canton.

Another conversation with a man from my community was the last spark I needed to ignite the fire and go through with the idea. He told me how when he would go to the butcher shop, the meats were segmented- the top tier meet was reserved for commercial use and the more affluent while the meat that was subpar was given to those living in poverty. He said to me in a defeated voice, “a los pobres siempre les toca lo peor.” Which loosely translates to “the poor always get the worst bargain.”  

That did not sit well with me- it never has, but I knew I could try to do something during the holidays to show them that that is not always true. I went to various supermarkets looking for pre-made baskets. They seemed so voluptuous and pretty. After a closer inspection, I saw the items it included- an XL bag of chips, 1-liter soda, napkins, toilet paper, soap, refried beans in a bag. All of that for $15. I was baffled- who in their right mind would spend that much for those things?

A basket, in my opinion, should contain essentials that people need. Things that people want.

I created an excel sheet and started comparing the price of items I thought were essential at different stores until I found a store that sold things in bulk. At first, they offered to make the baskets for me, but the trick was I would not get wholesale price. After doing some quick math, I realized it was more feasible to buy everything in bulk and package it myself.  

I did just that.

With the $876 raised through Instagram, I purchased 75 baskets. I was able to stretch the money so that I could also include some sort of sweets. I remember my family telling me that growing up, the only time they could afford to drink a Coca-Cola or a soda of any kind was Christmas- so I did my best and ensured each basket included a soda. It is not essential, but if someone who does not have the means to splurge on a soda can have access for the holidays- mission complete.

Once I took the items home, my friends quickly reached out and helped me pack the baskets. It was so much fun bonding with them and getting them involved in such a great activity. I would not have been able to do all the packaging alone- that’s for sure.

The process of giving the baskets was incredibly humbling. I received so many hugs, I was met with so many tears and many faces of relief. 

Thank you for giving 75 families a wonderful Christmas.