Silvana Alanís knows what it is like not to have food on the table. That is why she wants to make sure that in these difficult times, her neighbors don’t go through that.
Every Friday, Alanís, the owner of El Rincón restaurant in San Ysidro prepares, along with her team, 60 meals that are distributed mostly to seniors as part of a program of the community organization Casa Familiar.
Thanks to a fund from the Community Congregational Development Corp., about $15,000 was allocated to help individuals who need support to pay their rent, mortgage, or utilities, and nearly $11,500 to a weekly hot meal delivery program for seniors in San Ysidro.
The program started during the beginning of the pandemic, when Lisa Cuestas, executive director of Casa Familiar, heard of a COVID-19-positive single mother who was living alone and had run out of food. The Casa Familiar team prepared meals with what they had at home with the intention of dropping it off at the woman’s front door.
Someone from the team went to the El Rincón restaurant to buy soup and when Silvana heard the story she immediately offered to help, even if she did not get paid. That’s how the collaboration began.
Casa Familiar identified more people who needed assistance, and Silvana’s restaurant helped with the meals. It wasn’t until they received funding that the groups were able to provide food on a recurring basis. Now the plan is to continue for at least three more months.
Most of the meals are distributed to residents at the San Ysidro Senior Village, a new permanent supportive housing complex for formerly homeless seniors.
Silvana is willing to help in any way she can.
“Early in my life I went through hardship, and today I feel the need to help others,” said Alanís, a Mexican immigrant who bought the restaurant three years ago.
A native of Guadalajara, Jalisco, she came with her family to the U.S. almost 30 years ago. They immigrated at the invitation of a family friend who gave them shelter, but after a week, they were forced to look for another place since they were a family of eight.
To make a living they would get up early every morning and collect cans from garbage bins around town just to gather enough money to buy the ingredients needed to make tamales and sell them every afternoon. That was their daily life for several years.
“I remember that we were happy if we earned enough to have a shrimp Maruchan soup,” she said.
Eventually, her family found financial stability and later she got married, worked in different ventures selling cellphones and working in a money transfer business, until three years ago when Silvana and her family opened their restaurant in San Ysidro.
When the health emergency left many people out of work, she knew she had to do something to help her neighborhood. “Right now, we are all in survival mode. People need to eat and pay rent, and then we can worry about the rest.”
Veronica Flores, 44, is one of the beneficiaries. She learned about the program since she called the county’s 211 line in search of pantry items.
Her husband, a construction worker recently diagnosed with diabetes, lost some jobs due to the pandemic.
For now, they rely on their savings and some jobs that come up sporadically. “The little I earn is for rent or medical bills,” said her husband, Valentin Benitez.
In times of hardship it gives them peace of mind to know that at least every Friday they receive food and some groceries. “It helps a lot. It’s like a miracle,”Flores said.
For Teresa Gallegos, 80, the program is a “blessing” since for her safety she has not left her apartment in months.
During the week, she prepares her food with the groceries her family brings to her, but on Friday she takes a break with the meal from Casa Familiar.
“I feel happy, and I am very grateful for what they are doing for us.”