Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 4, 2009
Couple follows God's path into a Mexican dump
John and Brenda Power sold their Dairy Queen to devote their life to helping Mexican garbage pickers
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
John and Brenda Power traded dishing out ice cream in St. Albert for making breakfast for children scavenging in a Mexican dump.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
ST. ALBERT — A community-minded couple who escaped the snow and cold in St. Albert are now down in the dumps in sunny Mexico.
John and Brenda Power, who owned and operated the Dairy Queen in St. Albert for many years, have spent the past 10 years vacationing occasionally in Puerto Vallarta.
“At a church service there we saw a little video clip of an organization that helps families who are dependent on the Puerto Vallarta city dump. We volunteered here and there when we went on vacation. Then our lives changed and we are able to spend more time down there,” said Brenda.
FAMILIES AT THE DUMP
The organization was called Families at the Dump, and Brenda is now the program coordinator. They sold the St. Albert Dairy Queen so they can live in Mexico for the next five to 10 years. Just over 50 — too young to retire and not ones to rest on their laurels — the Powers will continue helping families living in the city dump.
“Anybody who knows us knows that we can’t sit still for long and we’re always involved in the community, so it’s natural to seek something out, so this kind of fell into my lap,” said Brenda.
“We saw ourselves retiring in Mexico at the beach. The mission part of it really wasn’t in the plan in the beginning, but it’s the best thing ever now. It’s very rewarding.”
Part of Christian life is community service. This was a principle the couple adhered to while living in St. Albert, with both of them involved with Holy Family Parish and John active in the Chamber of Commerce and other community groups.
Going to Mexico, they recognized that poverty does not take a vacation. Seeing the families eking out a living at a city dump brought about a new opportunity to follow God’s path.
“The families are going in there every day and scavenging through the garbage for food, water, clothing, household appliances, anything that they can use or they can sell,” said Brenda.
FOOD AND SHELTER
With Families at the Dump, they advocate for better living conditions for the families squatting at the base of the dump. The organization provides a nutritious breakfast five days a week to about 100 children.
“Brenda was always questioning whether that’s where she was supposed to be, down in Mexico helping those children. Every time there was an obstacle, our Lord moved that obstacle out of the way,” said John.
Recycling is just getting started down in Puerto Vallarta. The families can make an income by rummaging through the trash for recyclable materials. A family can earn, in Canadian dollars, between $35 and $50 per week by selling discarded recyclables.
Families at the Dump provides physical, educational, medical and spiritual support directly to the registered recyclers, as well as the families living along Hope Road at the base of the Puerto Vallarta dump and surrounding communities, including Majesterio village.
Bottled water is distributed to all recyclers five days a week. Sandwiches, fruit and water are delivered to the recyclers and their families on Wednesday mornings. Between 175 and 200 food bags are delivered every Friday. The bags consist of beans, rice, potatoes, tuna and other food items.
While the priority of their mission is to provide food and water, John said educational support is another important component. Since November 2006, Families at the Dump has been obtaining personal sponsorship for each child of school age.
“Two years ago, we had 25 children involved in the school program, and this year we will have over 200. What happens is that we have tourists come over and visit. They come with us on our tour, and meet a child and possibly offer a sponsorship,” explained John.
Their belief is that education is the key to breaking the cycle of dependence on the city dump.
OFF TO SCHOOL
“We’re actually assisting the children in the mission to get into public school down there, so they get out of this lifestyle. It’s getting into fifth generation now. We don’t want these kids following the lifestyle of their parents,” said Brenda.
In 2007, Families at the Dump and Paradise Village Christian Church formed a mission church serving the people living on or near the city dump. The non-denominational church offers services every Monday and a Bible study on Friday evenings.
Those who saw the families living at the city dump three years ago might be shocked to see the changes now. Some of the children are even able to speak a few words of English.
“A lot of people are surprised at how happy everyone is. You expect them to be forlorn and sort of down in the dumps because of how they live, but they don’t know any different. Now with the mission’s involvement, their emotional and spiritual level has gone up,” said Brenda.
Winnie and Henry Giesbrecht, from Selkirk, Man., lead the mission team.
J.J. Nearing Catholic Elementary School in St. Albert recently held a fundraiser for the couple’s Mexican mission, raising $8,888.
For more information about the Mexican mission visit www.familiesatthedump.org. Information about donating to the mission or sponsoring a child can be found at the website, which Brenda updates every Saturday morning.