Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - For many of us, one of the hard parts about being quarantined is a feeling of helplessness. Here in Vallarta, where its kind people are world-renowned, we wonder... "how are our friends that own small businesses getting by? I wonder if my favorite bakery will open when I return? What about the maids, the kids?"
I decided to turn to three experts for answers. Francie Nguyen (Bonito Kitchen), Jimmy Plouff and Francie Victoria (Tunnel Road BBQ), who have collectively started the Vallarta Food Bank by converting the BBQ restaurant into a food bank almost overnight. If anyone has direct contact with the people of Puerto Vallarta, it's them.
Just a bit of background: Francie N. was a Vietnam refugee who worked her way into a major high-fashion buyer for a NY chain. She had "made it" but left it all to help other refugees in both schooling and as a volunteer at a soup line. Jimmy is from small Willis, Texas, where neighbor helping neighbor is the way you are brought up in a town of 6,000. His partner, Francie Victoria, is a vibrant young Mexican cancer survivor who is beyond enthusiastic about helping others.
As diverse as their backgrounds are, their skills are even more so! Francie N handles all of the administration, leaving Jimmy and Francie V to get the food where it's needed. Together, they are literally moving mountains - of food.
The following is based on a high-energy two hour interview. It was hugely surprising to me and this made writing the story a challenge. Picture three talented, fired up, high-energy people all talking at once, unable to hold their unbridled enthusiasm about their work!
Frankly, I expected a "downer" of an interview given the gravity of their work. I could not have been more wrong! My notes look like chickens walked on paper as I tried to keep up. These are people on a mission, literally and emotionally. The following is what I managed to scribble while they were all telling me fantastic tales of their journey.
Q: How did three successful restaurant owners find themselves running a food bank?
A: "We saw the need. Big time. We got started doing what we could individually but we couldn't keep up. We needed start up funds and organization to make it happen. John, you lit the fire with startup money and ideas. Your friend Tricia Lyman so kindly allowed us to post on her uber-popular PV: Everything You Need or Want to Know FB page. Linda Ellerbee pushed us to a new level. Many companies including your Boardwalk Realty jumped aboard. It all happened so fast, it was like a dam breaking. We are so grateful."
Q: With more tools to work with, how's it going?
A: "Really well. Without exaggeration, we save lives daily. We are feeding families that are so poor, they do not have the documents to receive government help. We are talking houses made of cardboard. The city is helping a lot too, we even have daily support from the police! We are also dispensing masks, gloves and sanitizer for all. We have increased the number of families fed from 50 our first week (just over a month ago) to 1,080 last week. We are also supporting 18 kids with cancer who cannot leave the house. It's pretty amazing."
Q: What has caught you by surprise, both good and bad?
A: "I think the sheer volume. One week we were moving shelves to the front of a restaurant with a dream and a little money. A week later there were lines ¼ mile long at 6:00 am. The number of people donating time, labor and money was also startling.
We now deliver to the at-risk neighborhoods. Places like Volcanes, El Nogalito, Yelapa, Quimixto and Cartolandia ("Cardboard Land"). Why? Because they cannot come to the Food Bank. We load literal tons of food into borrowed pickups that barely make it up the roads."
"We are making great strides. Each bag of food costs us 30% of what they used to. We can do more - there are lots of people out there helping if we work together, we can leverage. It's coming together but the need is growing too. There's no work for the common man."
For more project information and photos, visit the Vallarta Food Bank website. If you can help, please visit their GoFundMe page. Puerto Vallarta, with your help, will overcome this too. Its people thank you.
And so ends Part 1 of the Vallarta Food Bank story. Stay tuned for updates, and please share this article with everyone you know, in hopes it will encourage them to make a donation.
Longtime PV residents, John and Christina have both raised families in Puerto Vallarta and are invested in the community. They take pride in supporting local charities that make Vallarta the jewel that it is. Real estate and lifestyle expert at Boardwalk Realty PV, they are here to help you find much more than an ideal home in the sun. View more real estate information at pvlifestyles.com, or email John Swanson at john(at)boardwalkrealtypv.com, or Christina Larson at christina(at)boardwalkrealtypv.com.
Click HERE to learn more about Boardwalk Realty PV.