It may not have any customers right now, but the American Legion bar in Mexico City hasn’t closed the kitchen down completely. It is now being put to use cooking meals for couriers, street vendors, the homeless and others struggling in the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Co-owner Grace Stearns said the idea to provide meals surfaced while taking inventory at the beginning of the quarantine period.
“We had a bunch of food that we weren’t going to sell quickly enough with a to-go menu and my business partner Luis thought it would be a good idea to give away free hamburgers and hot dogs,” Stearns told Mexico News Daily.
They gave away approximately 70 servings of food that first night, “and we realized there were a lot of people who could use a hot meal.”
Indeed, a short walk through the normally bustling streets of the trendy and verdant La Condesa neighborhood — popular with tourists before the pandemic — confirms what they learned that night.
Making a living has become difficult for vendors, all of whom depend on busy streets to survive.
“They have given me food before. It’s a big help in this difficult time. It’s hard to make sales,” said a vendor of the chile and lime seasoned fried grasshoppers called chapulines.
From her position as co-owner of the bar and her career as an educator — for which she continues to receive her salary — Stearns said she recognizes her privileged position and feels that people in similar situations should find ways to help those without such resources.
“Mexico City is vast and there is always a lot of need, and that need is only magnified in a crisis. There is an extreme concentration of wealth in the city and the country in general, and all of us who benefit from that should take care of as many people as possible right now,” she said.
That inequality is evident in Parque México, just two blocks south of the American Legion bar. Usually abuzz with dog walkers, exercisers, roller skaters and young lovers canoodling on every other bench, the park almost resembles a refugee camp now.
The amorous couples have been replaced by homeless people who take advantage of the scant amount of shelter provided by the small roofs over the park benches. Many suffer from disabilities and many appear to have lived on the streets for some time.
But others appear not to have been sleeping outside long enough for their clothes to get very dirty: a hint at just how broadly the crisis has affected the Mexican economy.
“I used to sell Minecraft dolls around here, but now, no. Nothing,” said a man who gratefully received a plate of chicken Alfredo from the bar employees, who are still receiving their salaries.
Stearns said she and her business partners “see the Legion as a platform to celebrate what is good about the United States and Mexico, and have always tried to be as inclusive as possible with our events.”
For them, feeding the neighborhood’s needy residents is a natural part of a tradition of solidarity between the two countries that the American Legion has fostered for over half a century.
Mexico News Daily