By Karla Sánchez Arismendi
For the past two years, Joel Munn, a retired ski instructor from Breckenridge, Colorado, has been working non-stop to make a difference in the lives of the poor people on the streets of Cuenca and surrounding communities. He is the founder of Snow Angels in Ecuador.
“Every day, walking through El Centro, I would pass the old, the poor and the people with extreme disabilities,” he says. “I couldn’t understand why no one was helping them. It was a wake-up for me. I knew I had to do something.”
In 2005, Joel began a thirteen-year stint as President and Chairman of the Board of the Professional Ski Instructor in Colorado and as trustee of the American Snow Sports Instructors of America. In the past four years, he has returned to the U.S. for six months each year to collect donations for the poor of Cuenca and Ecuador. “As a ski instructor in the U.S., I had wealthy clients who could help with my work. So, in 2018, I went back and created a 501-c3 non-profit organization, Snow Angels in Ecuador,” he says.
Joel explains that the mission of Snow Angels is to provide financial and administrative assistance to charitable human service organizations so they can help the poor.
He says he was inspired by a visit to a church in Vilcabamba. “The church was filled with angels,” he recalls. “It was filled with disabled and struggling people. The only things that these people had was their faith and their innocence. In the U.S., you express love by giving stuff but here you can see the love in the families.”
He adds that in tough economic times like this, in the midst of the Covid pandemic, the love of families must be supplemented by outside goods and services.
Snow Angels in Ecuador aims to improve the health, economic, social, and spiritual conditions of men, women, and children. Beneficiaries of Snow Angels are an array of charitable foundations and non-profit organizations selected to receive and distribute funding, food and services.
The Snow Angel Beneficiaries:
The Outreach Program
Expat couple Kathleen Rodas and Lynn Smith distribute 30 lunches a day to the needy on the streets of Cuenca. Their first clients were poor, often disabled, Ecuadorians, but they soon realized that foreign refugees, mostly Venezuelans, were also in desperate need. “The Food Outreach Program means the world to us and allows us to connect with the people that truly need help and to provide them meals,” says Kathleen. “Our goal is to give them a sense of importance in this world.”
GRACE Golden Ticket
Fundación GRACE is a volunteer medical center dedicated to meeting the health needs of refugees. An acronym for Give Refugees a Chance, GRACE is treating and advising a growing number of patients who feel they have nowhere else to go for help. It is predominantly a Venezuelans-helping-Venezuelans project, but volunteers include Ecuadorians and as well as North American expats.
One of GRACE’s newest projects is distributing the foundation’s Golden Ticket. When you give a Golden Ticket, you give dignity and choice, Joel explains. A GRACE Golden Ticket holder — Ecuadorian, Venezuelan or anyone else in need — receives one dollar, a lunch and, most importantly, their choice of GRACE’s Community Health and Wellness Services, delivered by licensed medical staff and through referrals.
A Golden Ticket holder can choose a general and pediatric medical consultation and treatment, a mental health consultation or dental care including cleanings, fillings, and extractions. The ticket holder receives medicine from the GRACE pharmacy. Those injured and in pain can choose massages and chiropractic services. In addition, the family of ticket recipients can receive free clothing.
“We are not changing the world but we are changing lives one at a time,” Joel says. “We are giving people services that build their self-esteem. One example is Fabian, who cleans shoes at Parque Calderón. He came to GRACE for dental care and since then his entire family has received new clothing. His family can also bring their three children for medical check-ups.”
Sevilla de Oro
The Sevilla de Oro Municipal government is in desperate need of kit foods to help 35 older people in the community near Cuenca. Joel provides 35 bags of food every week, each filled with $10 worth of groceries.
A reason to help
“I’m often asked why these people don’t seek out assistance,” Joel says. “In many cases, It’s because they have given up. They are disenfranchised, often street beggars and have become invisible to many of the people who walk past them every day.” Among those he helps are three disabled brothers, Antonio, Carlos, and Fredy, who sell small packets of candy near the cathedral in El Centro. “I get angry that people on the sidewalks don’t know their names.”
How to help:
Web Page: http://www.snowangelsinecuador.org
Phone Number: +1 970-409-7899