Party in the park mobilizes for Puerto Rico, Mexico

Belly dancer Celeste Evans teaches Malea Grant, 7 at the Big Bronx Sancochazo at Brook Park on Sept. 30. Photo: Paula Moura

Community stirs up giant pot of soup and collects donations for disaster victims

The fourth annual Big Bronx Sancochazo held in Brook Park on the last Saturday in September, had a special focus: deliver help to people affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the earthquake in Mexico.

About 100 people who attended this year’s event brought diapers, medicine, water and other types of relief along with the vegetables, juice and fruits needed to make the event’s traditional meal. Donations will be delivered to Puerto Rico by Longwood-based Mothers on the Move, and to Mexico by the owners of La Morada restaurant, in Mott Haven.

“Sancochazo for us is putting into practice cooperation — it’s what cooperation looks like. Everybody brings ingredients and we cook things together,” said Omar Freilla, 44, founder of the event and of Green Workers Cooperative, a nonprofit initiative that coaches more than 20 small businesses cooperatives to be ecologically sustainable.

At six Green Workers Cooperative stands, people played problem-solving games, and created paintings and ceramics. BX Arts Factory, a nonprofit that offers art classes to schools, captivated children and adults with drawings and paintings on cloth and canvas.

Yolanda Rodríguez, executive director BX Arts Factory, said the event is a chance to have a bit of Puerto Rico in the Bronx.

“When you know your loved ones are hurting it’s hard for you to live a complete life,” she said, adding that almost all her family lives in Puerto Rico. “We feel so helpless. Being together is kind of a healing experience for many of us.”

Other exhibitors included the Bronx Children’s Museum, Revolutionary Seeds, Ometetol group against gender violence, Knowledge House, Electronic Snap and Bioclassic, a cleaning cooperative. A DJ  played a mix of American and Caribbean music, and belly dancers and Dominican musicians performed.

Before tasting the long-awaited soup – the cooking process takes four hours — people were invited to perform a ritual to thank Mother Earth. It was led by group Cetiliztli Nauchcampa, whose members wore traditional clothes and feathers on their heads. Guided by the sound of drum and chocalhos, the group elder led a folk dance.

Meanwhile, volunteers finished the soup over a brick stove built especially for the event, and which came in vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions. The smell of the soup permeated the air. Both versions were finished in less than half an hour.

“It’s delicious and it’s making me warm because it’s very cold today,” said Wilma Roman, 55, a nanny, who was attending Sancochazo for the first time. It reminded her, she said, of her childhood in Puerto Rico.