As a wife and a mother with two children, Mari Gonzalez said she wanted to continue the legacy from her parents to keep fighting food insecurity.
Growing up with food insecurity, Gonzalez had seen her parents finding sources and helping to feed a family of six. Her parents, Maria and Osiris Reyes, who founded El Buen Samaritano Food Program in Worcester 1991, sought help through organizations such as Friendly House that provides critical assistance and later started volunteering at the organization.
Through Friendly House, a Worcester nonprofit, her parents met the executive director, Gordon Hargrove, who offered big help in establishing El Buen Samaritano, located at 39 Piedmont St. When her parents saw that there were not enough food pantries and programs in Worcester, they thought, "why didn't they open another one on the other side of the city."
This year, the organization is celebrating its 30-year anniversary serving the Worcester community.
Gonzalez took over the role as the executive director at El Buen Samaritano from her parents three and a half years ago.
"I've always been part of EBS," Gonzalez said. "Growing up, (I'd been) helping my mother and my father, and I remember when I was a child at seventh or eighth grade, the community and our school used to come and volunteer at EBS."
Gonzalez was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her father is Dominican and her mother is Puerto Rican. The family later moved to Worcester, where Gonzalez attended school.
Raising two girls on her own, Gonzalez has also been a foster mom who fostered over 12 children for close to eight years. She is currently fostering a 14-year-old child who has been with her for the last 18 months. She works closely with HopeWell Inc., a foster care center in Worcester.
Gonzalez said the organization is a volunteer-based nonprofit which has never been funded by the city or state, because they do not have a professional grant writer. She is also now studying remotely for a business and nonprofit degree from Southern New Hampshire University.
Currently, EBS distributes food Tuesdays from 3 to 6 p.m., and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Gonzalez dreams of someday opening EBS five days a week, when they they have more funds or donations.
In October, Gonzalez said, they served around 725 households with three to five family members. They are looking at serving more than 3,000 people in a month.
The organization also had a fundraising campaign for Thanksgiving, when there is an expectations that there will be a shortage of turkeys. They hoped to reach the goal of gathering 800 to 1000 turkeys or hams.
During the Christmas season, they will be partnering with Marine Toys for Tots to give children Christmas toys. They are also collecting gift cards for youths aged 13 to 18 for Christmas presents. They will also be having a winter coat drive where people can donate coats directly to EBS.
EBS is also taking care of elders, too, helping 60 households at Coes Pond Village, a community apartment complex for ages 55 and older. EBS is working together with the apartments to make sure the elders and those who are disabled are not food insecure when unable to leave their homes.
Other community resources EBS provides include assistance with SNAP applications, finding housing, finding clothing and furniture and emergency food services.
Over the last 30 years, their doors have never closed, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I can see people needed someone like EBS back then because it's not easy being a grownup. Because at the end of the day, if I lose my job tomorrow, I'll be the one at a food pantry tomorrow. I'll be the one looking for a home," Gonzalez said. "It could be you or me fighting food insecurity, looking for resources, and I want to make sure that I continue the legacy so that no one in my community, and no one in Worcester (is food insecure.)"
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Hometown Heroes: Mari Gonzalez, director at El Buen Samaritano Food Program