Column: Grace is all that separates us and joins us

Published 2:57 pm Saturday, May 31, 2008

The stench at the dump, sometimes nauseating, but always gripping, tended to overpower our ability to breathe. Dust blew into our nostrils as the trucks emptied loads of fresh garbage from the surrounding Puerto Vallarta area. Forty or 50 people live at the top of this heap, and we were there to bring them water.

About a dozen of us, all vacationing “rich” folks at the nearby Paradise Village Resort, left the rolling waves, umbrella shaded lounge chairs, and pristine sandy beaches to assist the “Families At the Dump.”

More than 200 families (around 1,200 people), with nowhere else to go, live in the area and “work” the dump. They sort through the bags of garbage, looking for valuables like cardboard, plastic, pieces of wood or other items that could be sold as scrap.

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Each bag of sorted cans, bottles, or tin they were able to collect was worth about 10 cents. In a week’s time, the dump families can sort enough debris to be sold for perhaps 500 pesos — about $50.

But most of all, they looked for food.

Other than what they may dig out of a bag discarded by someone else, there is no food or water at the parched summit of the dump.

As they searched through black, white and clear plastic bags left by the trucks, occasionally they would find a partial sandwich, perhaps a rotting banana, or a spoiled tomato they could bring home to their families.

In the back of my mind, I wondered if any of the bags they’d sort through that day would contain items I had discarded as useless or unfit to eat at my own beachfront hotel room. Sooner or later we all knew our trash would make it up to the top of this pile covering an area of 400 acres and measuring 700 feet deep, to be sorted through by our newfound friends.

While we were there, one group hit pay dirt. Falling out of the back end of the garbage truck was an intact papaya and several whole melons! This was a rare find. They cut into them with other sharp objects, also found at the dump, and began to eat them immediately. The juices dribbled out of the mouths of the teenagers, who were chowing down like they hadn’t had anything to eat in days. Maybe they hadn’t.

One day a week, Families At the Dump brings this group a “fresh” meal consisting of sandwiches, a banana, and a bottle of water — all purchases from a real store. Twenty of us had been up there the day before distributing the meal. Only women and children took time out for such a party. The fathers and teens kept working the dump, each minute too valuable to take a break lest they lose the next possible undiscovered treasure to another ambitious scavenger or one of the vultures circling overhead.

The volunteer leader who took us there, a native of Michigan, spoke poignantly, “The only reason I’m bringing this water to them instead of them bringing it to me is the grace of God. I was born by chance in a country of opportunity and wealth. I could have just as easily been born at the dump, with no opportunity, no medical care, no education and no way out.”

If you could have seen the smiles on the faces of these precious human beings and their eyes light up as a bottle of purified water was placed in their hands, you, like me, would have liked to help out more.

Fortunately, we can. Check out this group at www.familiesatthe

The FAD project supports a small school in the “neighborhood” and has dreams of building a community center where families can come eat indoors, have medical care administered, and where church services can be held. The entire organization is operated by volunteers, so 100 percent of all contributions go to food, education, instilling hope, and letting people know they are not alone or forgotten.

Whether it is supporting Families At the Dump or some other need in your own community, let yourself feel good about how grace will work through you to meet the needs of others today.

Prior to finishing this column, I wrote a check to FAD and mailed it to: Families At the Dump, c/o BLC Enterprises, 23792 Rockfield Ste. 250, Lake Forest, CA 92630.

Then I sat back and smiled, and felt thankful.

Wanna join me?

David Larson, M.S., C.P.C.C., is a licensed psychologist and life coach at the Institute For Wellness in Albert Lea. He can be reached at (507) 373-7913, or at his Web site,