September 2016

7th Annual Latino Food Festival to benefit VIM

Author: Joe Distelheim

The story started with a sick little boy in Central America and peaked with a successful inaugural event at Hilton Head Island’s new park at Shelter Cove. The people who made it happen are generous members of the local Latino community who call themselves Latinos Unidos. The beneficiary was—and will be—Volunteers in Medicine Hilton Head Island.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Miriam Hernandez of Bluffton had a nephew, Amner, who needed a kidney transplant in her home country of Guatemala. He was her only sister’s son; the family lived a rural area, with no medical insurance, no access to public transportation for medical care, and little money for prescriptions. “I didn’t have enough to help,” Hernandez said.

Friends here heard the story. One was Nena Balzola, a staff member at VIM who serves as “patient navigator,” among other duties. Another was Elmis Turcios, a local contractor. They, their spouses and a few others worked with Hernandez to raise money, in small chunks. There would be a garage sale, a car wash, food sales, parties, a raffle….

In such a situation, “a little bit helps,” Hernandez said, “a hundred dollars here, a hundred there.”
The money they raised helped Amner’s family with medicine and health care and transportation. The group contributed elsewhere if someone else was in need. But Amner never got his kidney. In 2012, at the age of 12, he died. Five thousand dollars was left. And after some discussion, the friends decided to give it to VIM—all of it.

“Because our community uses it,” Hernandez said.

“I go there; we all go there,” said Turcios. “It’s all about caring for people who need help.”
“We decided on VIM,” Balzola said, “and decided to keep going. Let’s go ahead and keep doing it.”
Somewhere along the line, the effort got a name: Latinos Unidos. It’s not a formal organization—really just a group of friends on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton united for a good cause. The small events became bigger, with Latino festivals in Jarvis Park. But those were small and hidden compared to the event at Shelter Cove last September, when the VIM staff got actively involved in the festival for the first time. “They came to us; they wanted to make it bigger and better,” Ginger Allen, VIM’s director of development said.

Between them, Latinos Unidos and VIM enlisted 150 volunteers. Members of the community did the planning and organization, contributed and cooked food, rounded up supplies and staffed the gates. The festival drew some 2,000 people, Latino and not, on a sunny afternoon.

The event raised $21,000 and VIM got a $21,000 contribution. “It was incredible—well beyond my expectations,” Allen said.

This year is going to be bigger. VIM is going after sponsorships, and the goal is to raise $30,000. “I am very excited,” Hernandez said. “You know what is my dream? I hope this festival is going to be recognized, not for the money, but for the heart.”

The Latino Food Festival will take place Sunday, September 18, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., at Shelter Cove Community Park. Admission is $3. Put it on your calendar!

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