Disney and Diego remember sitting at a dining table in their native Acacias, a remote town in the flatlands of Colombia. It was February 2020. Most of the world was operating normally, and the news anchor announced that somewhere on the other side of the planet, a virus was spreading. Still unclear about the unfolding situation, Diego was certain about carrying on with their plan to move to the U.S.
Their families had prepared a big farewell party for the newlyweds, featuring the two most important components: food and people. With the help of hallacas, asado de carne, yucca root and the power of heartfelt good wishes, Disney and Diego said goodbye to everything and everyone they knew—family, friends, places, personal possessions and delicious traditional food.
It was a bittersweet moment for everyone involved, but the thought of a new future was promising. For Disney and Diego, the idea of moving to another country brought feelings of enthusiasm and fear. After all, they knew that embarking on a journey like this is never an easy task.
“We came from Colombia to the Bay Area right before the pandemic. We didn’t know that our new country was going to welcome us with a lockdown and hardships right off the bat. Adapting to a new environment is difficult under normal circumstances. Can you imagine how it was for us not knowing anyone and with the uncertainty of not being able to work or move freely? Yes, it was one of the hardest experiences of our life,”Diego, a Second Harvest of Silicon Valley client, explains.
While trying to absorb their new reality, for three months Disney and Diego lived in an apartment full of bunk beds where they rented a “space” on one of the beds. Eating regular meals was difficult. They were in a race to find work and were too busy trying to make sense of what was happening.
Occasionally, Diego and Disney were able to cook a meal, and whenever this rare opportunity became available, they chose to cook caldo de pollo con arepas. “The translation of caldo de pollo is chicken broth. It is a simple recipe used for multiple purposes: to heal, to nourish, as comfort food, for hangovers and to show love. When a Colombian is in front of el caldo, the smell likely reminds them of a grandmother or a dear family member who loves making this dish for them. El caldo de pollo is a soup that uses basic ingredients like chicken and potatoes, but its meaning goes well beyond its name,” Disney, a Second Harvest client, says.
This simple chicken broth recipe is a comforting staple in Colombian homes that is passed on through generations. The garlic, green onions, cumin and cilantro simmer with the potatoes and chicken to create a tasty recipe that is nourishing to both the soul and body.
“Un caldito is a light meal. You can eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Every time I visited my grandmother, she had a pot full of caldo. I called it the miracle pot because it would feed countless family members and guests. As a child, I perceived that pot as bottomless. A pot full of caldo is the greatest representation of the kind and welcoming Colombian heart,” Diego says.
Diego, a civil engineer, and Disney, an environmental engineer, are used to working hard to reach their goals. With the determination that characterizes them, they were able to start working for a restaurant and cleaning houses. Before they knew it, Disney and Diego were working twelve hours a day, seven days a week. “Weekdays and weekends were the same for us, we became working machines. So much so, that I ended up injuring an arm. But fortunately, we were able to move from ‘the space’ to an independent room. A two-week paycheck went to cover the rent alone. We worked so much and still couldn’t afford a small apartment,” Disney explains.
In the early days of their journey in the Bay Area, Disney and Diego worked at Second Harvest as contractors sorting food and packing boxes. They started receiving groceries and were surprised to find ingredients to make Colombian recipes. “Our journey hasn’t been easy, but being able to recreate Colombian recipes has helped us feel connected to our families,” Disney says.
“When my wife gave birth to our daughter, it was just me taking care of them. I didn’t grow up cooking, but I was raised on delicious homemade Colombian food. So, when I needed advice on what to cook to help my wife during her recovery period, I called my mom, and she gave me instructions to cook caldo de pollo and other soups. When I cooked the meals for my wife, it felt good knowing that I was feeding her nourishing foods that promoted her healing process,” Diego explains.
Disney and Diego are building their family away from home, but Colombian food has kept them close to their roots. Cooking continues to be a challenge for the young couple. They share their living space, kitchen space and storage with another family. Sometimes, the two families join efforts to cook traditional Colombian food, but most of the time Disney and Diego prefer to cook quick meals that don’t require much space or storage. Occasionally, they receive food from Second Harvest and store it in a small refrigerator in their bedroom.
In May 2023, Disney and Diego participated in a nutrition workshop offered by Second Harvest. Through these classes, they learned about new foods and recipes to cook based on their special needs of a restricted budget, limited storage and no kitchen space.
“We participated in the nutrition class because we wanted to have more recipes. Although we love traditional Colombian food, we want to have more ideas to incorporate new flavors and raise our daughter with nutritious food,” Disney and Diego explain.
Disney and Diego keep growing, individually and as a family. They actively participate in their local church and their community. Diego continues working different jobs and as a referee, which blends well with his passion for soccer. Disney is now a full-time stay-at-home mom. They have expanded their recipe library and plan to keep learning new ways to raise their family in an environment that seems less foreign every day and more like home.