We’re happy to see baby boomers traveling the world … and even happier when they stop in the midst of their travels when they find people in need. That’s what Seattle-based author Ron Gompertz and his wife have just done in Cuenca, Ecuador, where so many refugees from the chaos in Venezuela have fled across the border. As Ron writes from Cuenca, their small contribution doesn’t turn the crisis around, but it does make a difference.

My wife and I spent a morning preparing and serving lunch to Venezuelan refugees as volunteers with the expat-organized Sustainable Cuenca Soup Kitchen. The soup kitchen routinely serves up to 150 people a day including many solo adolescents and families with young children. In addition to the consommé, carbs, and calories, we supplied milk and animal crackers for the kids, infant formula for the babies, and bananas for everyone.

Ron Gompertz serving soup.

I was deeply impressed with the volunteers and appreciative of all the background effort required to feed the displaced and hungry four days a week. I feel good about the essential service we provided, but wish we could have helped the young man who asked for a jacket to ease the nighttime chill, or the fellow who wanted to bathe after a five-day bus trip. A young mother asked for a disposable diaper which we had; another requested a blanket which we didn’t.

Whatever we have heard or read about the situation, the reality is worse. One man said that his town in Venezuela had been without electricity for three months. Another said that city water had long stopped flowing, replaced by for-profit tanker trucks. While many suffer, a few get rich.

The UN High Council on Refugees estimates that over three million people have fled Venezuela since 2014. Today we offered a day’s sustenance to a tiny fraction of them.

It would be easy to succumb to despair and wonder if our effort really mattered, given the magnitude of the problem.

Thinking it over, I was reminded of one of my father’s favorite stories about the person who finds a bunch of starfish stranded on a beach and starts throwing them back into the ocean one-by-one.

Another person comes along and points out the futility of trying to save all the starfish, saying, “Why bother? There are more starfish then you can ever save. You won’t make much of a difference.”

“Maybe not,” the rescuer says as he picks up another stranded sea star and throws it back into the ocean. “But, I made a difference to that one!”


Ron’s book is Life’s Big Zoo.


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