The old San Juan Wildlife Museum located on Kennedy Avenue, whose entrance is distinguished by the statue of a large elephant, is on its way to come back to life after being closed for years. Now, in addition to being a museum, it will serve as the headquarters for the mission to bring food to children and the elderly in need carried out by the non-profit organization El Comedor de la Kennedy.
As explained by chef Iván Clemente, leader of El Comedor, this project would allow him the dream of being able to combine a recreational and educational experience with the work of providing food to the most needy people.
The museum, which Clemente hopes to reopen sometime this year under the name Museo El Arka, had been closed since Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017. Last May, the chef asked the then-mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, and the response he received was that it was empty and of no interest to anyone, and even attempts to rent or sell it had been unsuccessful.
“I told him, ‘I want it. I am going to open the museum, I am going to recondition it, I am going to open it and the children are going to enter the museum for free all the time, and they are going to eat my food, ‘”he recalled.
The mayor considered the idea “fantastic” and gave him the museum, in usufruct for 30 years.
And here we are. Thank God today this museum belongs to El Comedor de la Kennedy. It belongs to us. We are already working to recondition it. They are already out painting. We are doing different things and we are going to do many more. Here we are going to make an aquarium, we are also going to make a hydroponic farm on the roof ”, he said.
Clemente is confident that he will be able to carry this project forward, no matter how difficult it may seem, with the solidarity of the people. After all, your non-profit organization feeds thousands of people every day.
It began about 12 years ago offering food to a dozen children, after “discovering that there were children in Puerto Rico who did not eat or ate poorly, especially on weekends when there was no school,” and the activity grew until it became what It is today a project that feeds 2,000 to 2,500 children and 3,000 to 3,500 elderly a week.
We have wonderful dreams and I know that my country will help me, my country always helps me “
-chef Iván Clemente
For the chef, this humanitarian work also has a very personal meaning, since he considers himself who he is today thanks to the humanity that other people showed in his life, even before he was born. According to him, he was born in the industrial prison for women in Vega Alta, the son of a confined woman, a drug user, who tried to abort him at eight and a half months, something that did not happen thanks to the timely intervention of another inmate. After I was born, “he gave me the prison chaplain and they taught me values, they taught me to be a good person, to seek the well-being of others and I began to study international cuisine, among many things,” he recalled.
Clemente highlights that the work that El Comedor de la Kennedy does is of great relevance, because “in Puerto Rico there is a lot of hunger. In Puerto Rico, out of 10 children, 6 to 8 do not eat, or do not eat well. Because there is a lot of food insecurity in Puerto Rico ”.
In fact, before the organization only distributed food on weekends, but now they do it daily, with their operations of hope and faith.
“This is constant work, continuous work. How do we do it? With the people. People help us, people give us rice. My country is a country of good people. My country is a country of noble people. And people still believe. And it helps me. Imagine that I deliver a million pounds of food a month. That’s a lot of food. We make 500 dishes, 600 dishes, 800 dishes, it depends on how the inventory is, we do it every day ”, he commented.
This food is distributed in 48 points from San Juan to Ponce, in three different ways: hot food, shopping, and snacks for the children.
By moving into the museum building, Chef Clemente hopes to further strengthen the organization’s humanitarian work.
“We are with wonderful dreams and I know that my country is going to help me, my country always helps me, to be able to ensure that the children have a spacious, beautiful place, to be able to be, to enjoy the time, and that they can also learn about history , of culture, and also of who we are, Puerto Ricans, and that we live on a beautiful island, in a country of good people, “he added. “That’s The Kennedy Dining Room.”
However, much remains to be done. From the outset, he hopes to meet as soon as possible with the owners of the collections of the stuffed animals that make up the exhibition, hoping that “they will leave them to me, for the enjoyment of the children of Puerto Rico.”
He explained that the museum would remain under the management and care of El Comedor de la Kennedy. He announced that in an area to the right of the museum a structure would be built where the kitchen, dining room and warehouse of the organization will be. In the center would be the exhibits and the aquarium. There will also be a room for activities.
“The museum was hardly damaged inside. The roof, well Maria damaged the roof a bit, and some areas. But it is almost intact. It is only a matter of doing some types of repairs, maintenance above all things. And we open, God willing, for October or November of this year ”, he added. “We are already moving everything. The last thing that moves is the kitchen because I can’t stop cooking. But we already have part of the warehouse here ”.
“The entire Kennedy Dining Room is coming here. I am currently renting a place, which we pay a lot, and then we moved here. And here we are going to have the kitchen and also the dining room. The children come here, they go to see the museum, this here is beautiful, a wide, spacious place, a very beautiful place, and besides that the children are going to enter for free, which was my dream for 12 years, and they will eat my food, “said Clemente.
“We are working with a plan that is my dream, so that we can have everything well located and that we can integrate the two things: the museum and the social service,” he added, highlighting that among other important things, they will need to get a couple of industrial refrigerators , van-type vehicles to deliver meals, and assistance to repair and update the building’s solar energy installation.
The focus is not limited to children, as the new museum hopes that “grandparents” can also participate as museum guides. And for that, Clemente already has “the endorsement” of the Civic Ladies who promised to support the project.
As the reopening of the museum is completed, now under the name El Arka, Clemente wants people to choose a name for the elephant at the entrance, for which he has two proposals: Dakari, which means happiness, and Enzi, which means powerful.
The chef is betting that the project will be able to be completed this year, despite its complexity, and the challenge of obtaining support in these times of pandemic and economic crisis, which have led to the donations received, which are all private, have fallen by 60%, while the number of people they serve has increased by 80%.
“It’s a ridiculous thing. There are no schools. There are no school canteens and when there are children they cannot go because their parents do not take them. This is unfortunate, but we feed them ”, he reiterated.
But the chef does not lose his optimism and his confidence that help will come, because, despite all the difficulties, people have continued to contribute in the way they can.
“I do not receive anything from the government. Everything is private. People give me a penny. People bring me a packet of rice. Here, at the museum’s security police booth, people have filled it there several times, with rice, beans, even turkeys and chickens. It is something wonderful ”, he asserted. “A pot of sausage, which is the cheapest, a pot of beans, a package of rice that they give me is one less that I have to look for.”
“I know that, although the company is large, the children deserve a great job and the elderly as well,” he insisted.
If you want to collaborate with El Comedor de la Kennedy, you can contact the organization through the main social networks or on the portal www.elcomedordelakennedy.com.