by Sharon Chin and Jennifer Mistrot
ROSEVILLE (KPIX 5) — A Northern California man who grew up with a tradition of giving – started by his grandparents 35 years ago – has taken his family’s charitable foundation to a whole new level.
For as long as he can remember, Carlos Martinez has helped give El Salvador’s poor free food and toys for the holidays.
“I would go give food basket to a family member, see the tears come out of their eyes,” he said. “And it just touched me, even as a kid.”
Martinez and his family served in the foundation his grandparents founded in El Salvador in 1985. Back then, it was called the Carlos and Marina Castañeda Foundation.
“My grandparents taught us all to give back what we had,” Martinez explained. “They owned a hotel that they built from the ground up, so they had a bit of money to spare. That’s why they were so willing to give every year. They instilled those morals into us.”
Today, Martinez runs the nonprofit, now called The Castañeda Kids Foundation, based in Roseville, California. The 501(c)(3) charity continues to honor his grandparents’ legacy, giving hundreds of holiday food baskets, sports program donations and dozens of scholarships to needy and deserving students in El Salvador every year.
But Martinez, who’s an emrgency medical technician in San Jose, expanded the foundation’s work even further, inspired by his experience as a medical volunteer in Haiti.
“I saw people waiting in line outside the clinic for three days for ibuprofen because that’s all they had,” he said.
Martinez was moved to start medical missions to El Salvador as part of The Castañeda Kids Foundation. He leads teams of some 70 Bay Area volunteers, like Dr. Rhys Dapar, a San Jose emergency room doctor physician.
“We see over 600 people a day,” said Dr. Dapar. “For some of these people, this is the only medical care they get.”
They see patients of all ages during their annual medical missions to remote parts of the Salvadoran countryside, and have treated some 12,000 patients over the last five years.
LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service
The volunteer doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMTs, pharmacists, interpreters and support staff provide free medical care and prescription drugs to anyone who can make it to their mobile clinics. They’s seen everything from heat illness and hypertension to arthritis and diabetes.
Some of the cases stick in Martinez’ mind. For example, he recalled the time the medical missions team gave a wheelchair to a man whose wife had spent years confined to a hammock.
“He said, ‘Well, I almost didn’t come in today because it costs me ten dollars to rent a truck from my house up in the mountain,” said Martinez. “And it’s either we pay for medical care or we pay for food for the week.”
Dapar described the work the medical mission team does as “incredible.”
“Honestly, I don’t think that these medical missions would be moving forward without Carlos,” he said.
“Over there, it’s absolutely life-changing. So it makes me feel good,” said Martinez.
Under Martinez’ leadership, the foundation also paid for the building of a well for water in one rural town. Martinez said before that, people only had running water for 15 minutes every three days.
The foundation also developed a sewing program so women can make money and feed their families, and is seeking other ways to help to help local entrepreneurs lift themselves out of poverty.
So for serving El Salvador’s poor through The Castañeda Kids Foundation, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Carlos Martinez.
Disclosure: One of the foundation’s board members is KPIX 5 Senior Editor, Carlos Castañeda, son of the nonprofit’s founders and Martinez’s uncle.