By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
When Marco Pindo visited Cuba for the first time about four years ago, he said it was like watching a movie of his childhood.
The owner of Ristorante Sapori in East Boca Raton grew up in Abruzzo, Italy. He remembers days where he wasn’t sure if there would be running water.
“For me, it was deja vu,” he said of the 2015 visit to Cuba. “I lived that life before. After the war, my town was like how it was living in Cuba, you don’t know when you have water or electricity. We had to learn to live with what we had.”
On his visit, he wanted to meet locals. So, he visited some of the poorer areas and knew he wanted to help.
He told his wife, Mara, who did some research on ways to get involved. They returned in December 2015 and did some charity work with a group, but decided they wanted to find a cause that focused on children.
“That’s where the roots are,” Marco said.
One year after his first visit, the couple found La Casa del Nina y la Nino or the “House for Girls & Boys,” an after school-activities center in Havana.
They began emailing with the center, which they call the Casita, and then decided to visit in person.
“We fell in love with what we saw,” Mara said of what they do for the children.
So, they began to donate their money and time to the center where about 25 kids come after school to be in a safe environment.
“The people there have a beautiful heart, but they have no shoes,” Marco said. “We have extra food that we throw away while they are trying to feed their families with what they have. I want to cook for them—I want to give the children shoes.”
Over the past few years, they installed new windows and doors that were destroyed from a hurricane. They installed new water faucets, replaced broken ceiling fans and painted. They are currently building a covered area for the outdoor play area.
They have visited about 20 times and have no plans of slowing down. Marco said his goal is to travel to Cuba about once a month. The fill suitcases with clothes, toiletries and toys for the kids on every visit.
To help raise money, the Pindos host an annual dinner at their restaurant. They have done so for the past four years. This year’s dinner was held late May and featured dishes from around the world.
The money raised from this dinner will go toward building out a bigger kitchen in the center. On visits, Pindo has brought a pasta maker and taught the kids how to make their own fresh pasta.
Currently, the Pindos are looking for restaurants in Cuba to teach the youth how to grow their own produce and prepare foods.
“We do not comprehend how these families live—we take so much for granted that they do not have,”Pindo said. “We have so much and these people have nothing.”