When Alicia González walked through the central park of the town she lives in near Cartago, Costa Rica, she would frequently pass by people begging for food or money, many struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. As time went on, the number of homeless individuals in the area continued to grow. She knew she wanted to do something to change this trend.
"My mother taught us to help families in need in our community, and volunteering is also part of Baxter's culture," says Alicia, a human resources executive assistant who has worked at Baxter's facility in Cartago for nearly 20 years. "I felt I had to do something to help these people as well as to educate about the toll of addiction."
Since then, Alicia has spent roughly five to six hours every Saturday cooking and distributing breakfast in the park for those in need, using the event as an opportunity to not only feed the hungry but also to distribute clean clothing and to share educational information about drug rehabilitation resources and job opportunities. She and her husband, son, daughter, and five neighbors take turns preparing the main breakfast dish—gallo pinto, a traditional Costa Rican dish made with rice and beans—and Alicia prepares eggs, coffee and bread and gathers supplies needed to serve the group. They receive monetary aid from anonymous donors to help purchase the food. Those who come to take part in the weekly meal in the park can find a listening ear and assistance in finding the services and help they need to get back on their feet.
"We use this time to talk to them, help them find institutions for rehabilitation or jobs, or to just listen," explains Alicia. "As I learn about their stories, I think one of the main challenges they deal with is regaining their self-esteem, believing they can change their lives and feeling that it's worth it for them and their families. We try to provide them with support and guidance to be able to do this."
In the five years that she, her family and her neighbors have been volunteering to serve breakfast in the park, they've seen positive changes in some of the individuals they've met.
"One man we assisted decided to go to a rehabilitation home, and stayed there for nearly a year," shares Alicia. "We found his family and put them in touch, and he's also now working."
Alicia has a long history of volunteering. As a child, she'd accompany and help her mother while she volunteered to teach art in schools, and after high school she traveled to the United States to learn English and volunteer in senior citizen homes. Today, she also gives back through serving on Baxter's local sustainability committee. As part of her responsibilities, she coordinates employee volunteer opportunities, manages donation requests from the community, organizes employee giving campaigns and assists employees' children with the application process for scholarships from The Baxter International Foundation."Volunteering makes me appreciate what I have," Alicia says, citing her faith as one of her driving reasons for wanting to give back. "It's also made me more aware of the ways I can advocate for institutions in my community to help solve problems that are of concern to all of us. I can be a voice for those who struggle to speak."