By Saralee Squires
Fundacion Hogar de Esperanza is a locally based, locally run, accredited charitable organization right here in Cuenca. Our team supports people and families going through rough times and determined to get back on their feet. Our help lifts them through periods of illness and other difficulties they’ve run into through no fault of their own. But we can’t do it alone. Our team of volunteers, both newcomers and Cuencanos, work hand in hand. Volunteers are the bedrock of our mission, and we love to share their stories. Join us and be a part of the solution.
Meet Volunteer Saralee Squires: I’m Saralee Squires. I moved to Cuenca two years ago after two visits. I fell in love with the city and its people. I spent my career in advertising and higher education benefits administration. I’m a Florida native, but I lived with my husband in many parts of the States. I came to Ecuador from our longtime home in Denver. I earned a master’s degree in leadership from the University of Denver and a bachelors from Rutgers University (go Scarlet Knights!).
Why are you part of Hogar? I realized after retirement I missed a daily sense of purpose that comes with work. Volunteering at Hogar de Esperanza is so satisfying as I work with our team to help as many people as possible by sorting and distributing food donations from our generous sponsors. Even though I can’t fully speak Spanish (I’m working on it) the interactions with local people, both our clients and fellow volunteers, are rewarding. And we laugh a lot, too.
What do you do? A few hours a week, we sort and organize food donated from our great sponsors, SuperMaxi and Grand Aki. Our kitchen gets about half the food to feed patients and clients. The food bank gets the other half for donations to local families going through a rough patch. The families are vetted through our social services team, so we know they need this help and it’s going to the right people. Our clients also receive medical help, housing assistance, skills training, and counseling from our coordinated assistance team. Our goal is always a hand up, not a handout.
But why Hogar? I wanted to connect with the community we have come to love here in Cuenca. When you get to know those we serve, it’s natural to want to help. Being part of the Hogar team has helped me build new, meaningful connections and makes me feel like I’m part of a community, not a tourist.
Well, what’s it like? One day, while I was sharing boxes of food with our clients, I kept hearing ‘Dios te pagará.’ I would smile and say ‘Gracias, de nada,’ but then I realized they were saying ‘God will pay you.’ That’s how much it meant to them. It brought tears to my eyes. These families are so grateful for the basic necessities many of us take for granted. I’ve come to notice when the food bank needs something, somehow it just appears. It’s a blessing to feel so appreciated and to be a part of something larger.
How important are volunteers? No one volunteer is more important than all of us together. Hogar depends on its volunteers and the community that supports us behind the scenes. It’s who we are. More than the building, more than the facilities, it’s the people. We are always mindful of those who can’t be here physically but lend us their support through generous donations. All of us are stronger than one of us.
What do you need to succeed? We welcome new team members. When you join us, you’ll build new friendships, new connections with your Cuenca community, and, frankly, you’ll have fun. If you can spare a few hours a week, we’d love to have you. Come down, check us out, let us show you around. Many hands make light work and loud applause.
What’s ahead for you and Hogar? Ultimately, we’d like to help the Cuenca community get down to zero food waste. Why should someone go hungry if food is being thrown away? SuperMaxi and Grand Aki generously supply us with fresh produce, dairy, eggs, and bread, and we work efficiently to get those out the door to those who need them. But we’re mindful that dry goods – such as sugar and rice – won’t always make their way to our pantry because they don’t expire. For that, we look for ways to generate revenue so we can buy them. Our aim is to be a fully self-sufficient, independent well of food, service, and hope to those we serve.
What’s missing?“I am so grateful for our volunteers, donors, and corporate sponsors SuperMaxi and Grand Aki. And someone says thank you for that every day. But we would welcome more volunteers, no matter what their specialty and skill set. And we celebrate our donors, both those who surprise us with a one-time gift and those who donate a bit every month. Our operations are lean with low overhead and administrative costs. Virtually everything that comes in our door goes back out to help those we serve. All contributions – time, supplies, and funds – go a long way.
Why does it matter? Hogar de Esperanza makes a real difference every day in your new hometown. When you get involved, you see the rewards instantly. None of us ended up in Cuenca by accident, we had to want to be here (you already know how hard it is to get here). It feels good to join a group of friends making our new home happier, healthier, and better for everyone. We are nothing without our volunteers and supporters, and we are everything to those we serve.
How can I help? Don’t be shy. Come out and build real connections, make new friends, and enjoy some of the rewards we feel every day. We make it easy and fun. Contact us on Facebook, or shoot me a note personally on Whatsapp at +593 096 324 6871. And you can visit our website at https://hogaresperanza.org/en/home-2/ and donate online (you can even get a receipt to make a tax-deductible charitable contribution).
Hogar: Fundacion Hogar de Esperanza
Grand Aki: https://www.aki.com.ec/