‘Our hearts were shattered’: Moved by their work in Mexico soup kitchen, Northampton couple takes action

Jamie and Ginny Elkin of Florence recently spent time volunteering at a soup kitchen in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca.

Jamie and Ginny Elkin of Florence recently spent time volunteering at a soup kitchen in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca. SUBMITTED PHOTO

 Volunteers help prepare meals at a soup kitchen in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca, where Jamie and Ginny Elkin of Florence (not pictured) worked for six weeks this spring. The Elkins were so moved by the experience that they are now raising money to send to support the soup kitchen.

Volunteers help prepare meals at a soup kitchen in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca, where Jamie and Ginny Elkin of Florence (not pictured) worked for six weeks this spring. The Elkins were so moved by the experience that they are now raising money to send to support the soup kitchen. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

 People wait for a meal outside a soup kitchen in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca, where Jamie and Ginny Elkin of Florence (not pictured) worked for six weeks this spring. The Elkins were so moved by the experience that they are now raising money to send to support the soup kitchen.

People wait for a meal outside a soup kitchen in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca, where Jamie and Ginny Elkin of Florence (not pictured) worked for six weeks this spring. The Elkins were so moved by the experience that they are now raising money to send to support the soup kitchen. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By ARIA MARTINELLI

For the Gazette

Published: 04-14-2024 11:30 AM

Modified: 04-15-2024 11:34 AM


NORTHAMPTON — Jamie and Ginny Elkin have seen a lot during their volunteer work at soup kitchens at far-flung places over the years, but nothing quite like what they recently experienced during a six-week stay in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca.

The Elkins — Jamie is a chef who volunteers at Manna Soup Kitchen in Northampton and Ginny is a singer-songwriter — travel half the year volunteering at soup kitchens. They’ve done this work for years, but the couple says they were “blown away” by their recent experience in Oaxaca, which opened their eyes to the humanitarian crisis of migrants from South and Central America traveling north to the United States.

The Elkins were so moved by the experience that they’ve since established a website to tell their story and collect donations to be sent to help the soup kitchen in touristy Oaxaca.

“The need is harrowing,” Jamie says. Working all day until “the heat got to us,” as Jamie says, isn’t what they expected either.

“It’s wonderful to provide food for people, but in Mexico at the end of the day it’s like I got to give more,” says Jamie. The couple couldn’t stop. Jamie describes working until they dropped.

Migrants from Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala — from newborns to elders in their 70s — make up the majority of the people that the soup kitchen serves, the couple report.

“By the time the migrants arrive in Oaxaca they have been on the road for at least two months,” Jamie says. “Wearing flip flops and Crocs, it’s unbelievable.”

“Imagine, for a moment, being forced to leave behind everything you know and love, embarking on a perilous journey with no guarantee of safety or sustenance,” the couple said. “Our hearts were shattered.”

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Jamie made 300 sandwiches each day in Oaxaca, while also bringing a Venezuelan bean dish to the menu. It was important for Jamie to make food that provided a taste of home for the migrants. “That’s what Jamie does as a cook, it’s like, ‘How can I nourish people and bring them joy with food?’” Ginny says.

“Cooking makes people happy.” That’s why Jamie loves it. “Wherever we travel, I cook,” he adds.

The work of the volunteers, many of whom are North American expats, consists of cooking and distributing food, drinking water, clothes and sanitary products. Ginny took part in this support as well as working as a translator. The soup kitchen also provides phone-charging banks.

“You just think, ‘Wow, what if you went days without being able to charge your phone and you’re in a foreign country and you don’t have a map and there’s no water,’” says Ginny.

When Jamie isn’t cooking, he works as an animator producing educational products. Ginny is a retired chiropractor, and pilates and Feldenkrais teacher. Her work centered around movement education. Now she devotes her time to being a singer-songwriter and honing her Spanish-speaking skills.

“We can’t change the world ... but we could buy stuff for these people with our North American incomes,” Jamie says.

The couple created a fundraiser, oaxacanmigrantfundraiser.org, calling on the support of the community to help sustain the soup kitchen. The funds raised are intended to also support the soup kitchen in hiring local Oaxacans to work there.

The goal is to reach $20,000, and there is a matching fund of up to $10,000. Donations are tax deductible, as the soup kitchen is a nonprofit.

“If I focus on it I feel like I’m drowning. That is why we have decided to spread the word and do the fundraiser. It is our only way to deal with it,” Jamie said. “We can’t change the geopolitical structures of the world but we can buy shoes, food, medicine and blankets. I wish the people in the world who demonize migrants could see these folks up close, it would change everything.”