Crisis Heroes: How Jaco Impact Needs Help to Impact Jaco, Costa Rica

Justin DeBoom spotlights Jaco Impact, a small organization in Jaco, Costa Rica who need help to continue helping people during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

This isn’t a story about me, although I admit I play a small part.

It’s a story about the community of Jaco, Costa Rica where I live. I wanted to share how proud and humbled I am by people in my community pitching in to help during the COVID crisis.

Anyone who knows Costa Rica knows Jaco doesn’t have a great reputation. People dismiss Jaco as a party town, a kind of Costa Rican Sin City. Maybe there’s an element of truth to that, but it’s also very unfair. Jaco is full of the kindest, most helpful, caring people you’ll meet in Costa Rica.

Living in Jaco, this is something I knew before COVID-19. But since the pandemic started, especially in the last few weeks, I’ve seen how wonderful the community I live in is.

And I want to give a special shout out to a true crisis hero, Yorgina Ureña of Jaco Impact. She is the real reason I’m writing this. I’m trying to cast light on her organization and get as many people to help her as I can.

I found Yorgina during some of Jaco’s darkest days in early July.

Already reeling from the impact of COVID-19 on the town’s economy, the last thing Jaco needed was a natural disaster.

But the rains came and the flooding started. This happened just before the government enforced their martillo (hammer) strategy, closing many of the few remaining open businesses.

I was meeting my friend Brandon for dinner on the last day before the lockdown kicked in. Driving between Herradura and Jaco, we saw all the flooded out homes on the east side of the highway.

It set a somber tone for our evening. We spent our dinner talking about how tough it must be to lose your livelihood and have your home flooded out in the space of a few months. This would be happening to so many people in our community. Things weren’t getting better, they were getting worse. What could we do?

The next day my wife and I went grocery shopping.                                                                                                  

In the supermarket, we saw all the aisles containing clothes, cleaning equipment, and anything the government deemed “non-essential” closed off.

As part of its “martillo” policy, the government ordered anything “non-essential” in supermarkets to be off sale.

Strange, I thought to myself. What about the flooded-out families that just had all their stuff soaked, and now can’t even buy a dry pair of underwear or a towel for their kids? The whole government policy made zero sense.

Later that day, Brandon and I were getting ready to go fishing as we had been doing almost every weekend since the crisis started.

Telling him about the supermarket added to the sadness of our previous night’s conversation. But it gave us an idea. An idea we should have had before, but better late than never, right?

What if we give away the fish we caught to those in need? Such a simple idea of how we could immediately contribute.

That day, we caught some huge tuna and had about 200 lbs of fresh fish to give away.

But how to coordinate this? Who to give the fish to?

Well, to start off, Brandon’s mate took half. Then we gave the other half to Jose “Pancho” Brenes (Pancho), a local fisherman and all-round good guy. Between them, they gave all the meat to the families and neighbors around them.

Three days later, Brandon and I went fishing again. We took Jose and Tyler Lindorf – another local fishing expert – and caught a lot more tuna. By now, we’d reached out to the local Horizon Church who’ve been doing a lot of food bank work during the crisis. They were happy to take the meat.

Horizon Church distributed that second batch of tuna to around eighty people. They even had more spare to help feed the folks at Casa de Amor, a rehab center down the coast in Quepos.

We were getting our groove on in finding people to help us distribute fish.

And this is where Yorgina comes in. We were getting set for our third fishing trip and I found her on Facebook.

Yorgina founded Jaco Impact in 2017 as a social movement, promoting different causes to benefit the community.

They organize environmental projects like beach cleanups and recycling programs. Active in local education, they arrange English lessons for local kids and make collections for school supplies.

Other Jaco Impact projects include surf lessons for the disabled, promoting the arts, helping aid local entrepreneurship, and animal welfare.

They’re like facilitators in a way. They identify needs in the community and then find and work with the best people to fulfil those needs.

But then came COVID-19 and the border closures.

The COVID crisis has decimated beach and rural communities all over the country. Costa Rica relies on tourism, and that especially goes for beach communities like Jaco. The economy of this town has cratered and most people are jobless.

While the unemployment rate in Costa Rica as a whole is at 24 percent, it’s highest-ever, in beach towns like Jaco it approaches some 70 or 80 percent. That’s what happens when a tourist center loses most of its income in one fell swoop.

And in a country like Costa Rica, without organizations like Jaco Impact, people will starve.

For Jaco Impact, the crisis became a call to action. They’ve pivoted most of their efforts now towards providing food for desperate Jaco families.

On her GoFundMe page, Yorgina talks about feeding these people through her Donemos Esperanza (Let’s Donate Hope) campaign.

“Our goal is to buy food and meet the basic needs of chosen families,” she says. “We have 400 people who filled out a form requesting help. These people are in Herradura, Jaco, Quebrada de Ganado, Quebrada Seca, Tarcoles, Lagunilla, and Esterillos.”

Since the crisis started, Jaco Impact has given out over 250 food baskets to the most needy people.      

That’s where we hope our fish donations come in useful. They’ve also created a bartering group to further help another 7,000 people use what they’ve got to create a “new, sharing economy” in the area.

But Jaco Impact is running out of money and donations, no matter how much fish we bring in.

Before COVID, they were dependent on donations. But as the crisis deepened, donations dried up. Money is tight for everyone right now, especially at the beach.

Right now, Jaco Impact is running on fumes, trying to help the most needy while needing help themselves.

We’ll do what we can with fish supplies and other donations, but I wanted to share their work with you here. Anyone who knows and loves Jaco should understand what’s happening in this town.

If you can contribute with fish (looking at you, Los Sueños fishing community!), food/supplies, volunteering time, and yes, money, please contact Yorgina. She desperately needs help to keep Jaco Impact afloat and local people fed.

I would also be happy to explain more to you about Jaco Impact’s work and what they’re doing in my hometown. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.

And if you can help Jaco Impact at all, please visit their GoFundMe page. Jaco Impact needs help to help the people of Jaco.

Justin DeBoom lives with his wife Lucia in Jaco, Costa Rica where they run Caribsea Sportfishing. Justin also works as a travel consultant and fishing specialist at Namu Travel, where he helps people plan trips to Costa Rica and Panama. He can be contacted at justindeboom@namutravel.com.