DURAZNO, Uruguay – Ana Maria Capote is helping around 800 people left homeless due to flooding in the central Uruguayan city of Durazno, serving up stews and other hot meals that are helping them cope with the Southern Hemisphere winter.
She and a team of culinary helpers have responded with solidarity and teamwork to the rain-triggered crisis that erupted in Durazno province, where the Yi River burst its banks and forced more than 5,000 people from their normal places of residence.
Some of Capote’s assistants peel and chop vegetables, others pour them into a large container and still others put them to cook in a pot along with meat and lentils.
When the stew is finally ready, it is served up to a group of more than 180 people who have found temporary lodging at the Las Higueras camp.
Two other pots also are loaded onto a truck so soldiers can distribute food to other camps set up by them and other people who voluntarily left their homes.
While some of the other Good Samaritans continue to work in the kitchen as music plays on a small radio, Capote steps away to speak with EFE.
She explained that she is not a military person but now feels “as if she were” because for 20 years she has been assisting the armed forces with their flood-relief efforts in Durazno.
Capote is an employee of the mayor’s office and also works in the dining hall at Cobusu (a digital inclusion space), where on June 17 she received a call from a local emergency committee alerting her to the situation and where she prepared the first 100 plates of food for the evacuees.
She settled in at noon the next day at Las Higueras and an hour later 300 people were already eating there.
Capote prepares up to 1,000 portions at a time at the camp’s field kitchen, a far cry from the 13-kilogram (28-pound) gas cylinder that she used to make her dishes 20 years ago.
She says she makes a variety of meals ranging from meatloaf, tuco (a meat- and vegetable-based sauce), chicken and stews, although she said the latter has all the nutrients that people need when enduring a trying situation.
While Capote is in charge of the main meals, another group of people prepare the breakfast and an afternoon snack that consists of milk, coffee, chocolate, tortas fritas (fried bread) and sweet bread.
Other camps in Durazno located a few kilometers away receive the food prepared at Las Higueras, although the people staying in those places also cook their own meals, EFE observed during a visit.
In one of them, situated a few blocks from the river and near a group of houses submerged to their roofs, several people congratulate a local resident named Wilman Martinez for the tortas fritas prepared by his brother, who also cooked a rice pudding.
“There will always be some new menu,” Martinez told EFE, adding that local residents are helping each other out with a view to bringing the community closer together.