Posted Date: 10/24/2023
Jorge A. Vela, LMTonline.com / Laredo Morning Times, Laredo Morning Times
With years of philanthropic efforts under his belt at just 16 years old, Nourish Laredo co-founder Mateo Cañamar was announced this week as the 2024 Jefferson Award winner for Laredo as its Volunteer of the Year for his efforts spearheading food and other donation drives.
Cañamar started the organization with his brother Eduardo Cañamar and their cousin Lorena Tellez at the age of 13 during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Since then, he feels he has had an enormous desire to help as many people as possible in his community and bring some hope to those who need it the most.
“I hope that this inspires younger people like myself when I first started it and see that they don’t have to be older to accomplish their dreams,” Cañamar said.
Cañamar said seeing the pandemic affecting people's incomes and livelihoods inspired them to begin Nourish Laredo.
“There was this one evening during COVID that we wanted to help people in need, and we ended up starting this nonprofit, and from there just expanding to fit whatever people may need,” he said. “From a very young age doing this it felt very good, and I hope more people do it as you feel really good when you give back.”
Aside from his brother and cousin’s help, Cañamar said a great inspiration behind beginning Nourish Laredo is his grandfather David Morales. He said they would always go together to the bridge and other parts of the country where there were people in need, and they would hand out food and other supplies.
“I never thought that it was going to become something this big, as I was just kind of following my grandpa and brother’s footsteps,” Cañamar said. “Usually, we hold everything from food drives but also give out hygiene kits, toys at times, candy and everything that we can provide to the people.”
Cañamar said he is delighted with how big the organization has grown in recent years allowing them to assist more people in need throughout the community.
“When I first started, I really didn’t think the need was so big here locally, but when you start going to different places -- like all around Webb County and especially in Pueblo Nuevo -- you see that there is a lot of need here in our community,” Cañamar said. “All the people we meet are always very grateful, as you just give them the littlest things that many of us take for granted and they greet you and say thank you with a big smile on their faces. None of this really matters, including this recognition, as at the end of the day what matters is putting a smile on their faces.”
Cañamar said he greatly remembers the Pueblo Nuevo community because he encountered several cases during the time of Winter Storm Uri that left homes without electricity and people stranded. He recalled going out amid the cold and handing out groceries and other items for them to stay warm, and he said all of the people were happy and surprised by what they did.
A junior at Alexander High School, Cañamar utilizes his friends on campus to help achieve his goals. He has even recruited friends to serve on the board of Nourish Laredo.
“Some of my best friends are on the board as they just love giving back as well,” Cañamar said. “I wouldn’t be here without the volunteers and my family helping, as I feel that I got this award as a team and it is not just about me. We are an entire team.”
After graduating from high school, Cañamar intends to study business at Texas A&M University then return to his hometown to carry on his father’s business that focuses on computer engineering. He also wants to continue his efforts with Nourish Laredo.
“When I get back or during the school breaks when I come back, I hope to come back and continue this,” Cañamar said. “For the meantime, my cousins are going to be here carrying this on, but I hope to keep it on forever. I love Laredo because everybody knows each other and it is like a big family as it is big but it's small, and there is also a lot of room for more expansion in this city.”
For more information on Nourish Laredo and its efforts, visit facebook.com/nourish.laredo or follow nourish_laredo on Instagram.