Columbus-area Venezuelans donating food and medicine for humanitarian aid

Malnutrition, corruption, economic devastation: Those are only some of the grim circumstances currently troubling the nation of Venezuela. And with country’s economy in freefall and the government doubling down on control, travelling in and out of Venezuela is nearly impossible. Still, the need for food, medicine, money and other life essentials remains extremely high.

Arepazo Tapas & Wine, a Latin American restaurant with special focus on Venezuelan and Colombian cuisines, is hosting a fundraiser to help. On Thursday, August 30 from 5-9 p.m., the 515 S. High St. location of Arepazo will donate 15 percent of food sales to provide relief for the crisis in Venezuela. The funds will be used to purchase basic medical and hygiene needs, says Arepazo co-owner Carolina Gutierrez.

Gutierrez’s husband, Carlos, who also owns the restaurant, is from Venezuela. Many of his relatives still live there, including Carlos’ mother, who cannot get the resources she needs, especially in terms of medicine.

Arepazo is partnering with Programa de Ayuda Humanitaria para Venezuela, an organization that collects monetary donations, as well as donated basic medical supplies like over-the-counter drugs and bandages, and distributes humanitarian aid to Venezuelans in need.

The fundraiser, which only requires that customers show a digital or printed flyer found on Arepazo’s Facebook page to contribute, allows everyday customers to make a difference in the national crisis in Venezuela.

“The beauty of this country is, people love to help out, and I think there's a means to do it,” Gutierrez says. “It's a benefit for both ends: a benefit from people coming to my place, getting to know our food and knowing that we have food from our countries, and then the benefit by helping people.”

Arepazo is not alone. Others in Central Ohio are helping to raise awareness and funds for Venezuela. Yerar Marquez, who works part time at Arepazo, helps organize events to increase awareness of the dire situation in Venezuela. Partnering with various members of the Venezuelan community in Columbus, Marquez has helped coordinate collections of food, medicine, school supplies, backpacks and more. Those collected items are then shipped in boxes directly to the Venezuelan citizens in need. The government has total control in Venezuela, Marquez says, making it extremely challenging for people to buy basic necessities.

“If they have food [in Venezuela,] it is so expensive,” he says. ““The salary per month is $2 or $3. That’s per month.”

Marquez lived in Venezuela until he sought political asylum and moved to Columbus two years ago because of the unsafe conditions in his home country.

While living in Venezuela, Marquez devoted his life to fighting for human rights, working with World Bank, UNICEF and smaller, more local organizations on myriad social issues. When he moved to the U.S., his desire to help came with him. “I love to help other people,” he says. “It’s my life. For me, it’s normal [to help people].”

Marquez is a part of a group called Venezolanos Unidos en Columbus, or United Venezuelans in Columbus, which helps plan many of these events. His efforts to provide relief continue in September with a Labor Day event that calls upon the area’s Latino community to raise support for Venezuela. Attendees are invited to bring medicine and other essential items to be sent to the nation.

Raising awareness is a task that needs to continue, Marquez says.

“It’s not just a Venezuelan problem,” he says. “It’s a full-world problem. The people want to come back to Venezuela, but we can’t right now. Once the government leaves, we can come back to Venezuela. We want it to work.”

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