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Local Couple Start Nonprofit Relief Organization

Dylan Roche
View Bio
January 22, 2013

By Peter Crispino

When Richard and Jennifer Cedeño delivered boxes full of donations to remote villages in Panama in 2010, they were shocked to discover that it wasn’t the children’s toys or the new clothes that interested the local residents. Instead, it was simply the cardboard boxes themselves.

“When you talk about the things we take for granted every day here, people couldn’t wait to get a cardboard box because they didn’t have dressers or other places to put their clothes,” Jennifer recalled. Over the duration of their time in Panama, the Cedeños, along with their friends and family, delivered three truckloads of donations to hundreds of impoverished people in rural parts of the country, many of whom lived without electricity or running water in their homes.

“They were really great communities but they had very, very great needs,” Jennifer said. “The people were just so thankful and appreciative of everything.”

After bearing witness to the tremendous impact of their effort, the couple knew they wanted to turn the one-time trip into an ongoing charitable effort. Consequently, the Cedeños soon after established a nonprofit organization called the Latin American Relief Network.

“[The initial trip] was such a great success that we wanted to continue doing it and also start other programs,” said Jennifer. “We don’t want to just give people stuff; we don’t just want to give them fish, so to speak, we want to teach them to fish. We want to give people resources to help themselves as well.”

Jennifer, from Pasadena, and Richard, from El Naranjal, Panama, met and immediately fell in love while attending school in Florida in 2002. Upon graduation, Richard had to return to Panama where he held citizenship, so Jennifer left her parents’ home in Pasadena and followed.

“They were shocked,” Jennifer recalled of informing her family of her decision. “I always had a very clear career path, I was studying marine biology and planning on graduate school, but that would have meant sacrificing my relationship with Richard … We didn’t really have a plan, we just wanted to be together.”

After living in El Naranjal for two years, the couple married and eventually moved back to the United States, living in Pasadena for a period before settling in Severn.

The pair never envisioned starting a nonprofit organization; in fact, they never set out intending to ship a storage container full of donations to Panama. It started with a chainsaw and a few other supplies Richard wished to send back to his family in his rural hometown.

“You can’t send a chainsaw in the mail or take it on a plane so we started looking at different options and we kept coming across shipping containers,” Cedeño said. “We didn’t have enough stuff to fill an entire container and it didn’t seem worth it to fill part of one, but because of our time in Panama, we knew people in areas where a lot of the things we don’t use would be very appreciated, so we figured we should just start collecting all this great stuff people around here don’t want and find a home for it.”

The Cedeños visited flea markets and reached out to friends and family in search of items they could send down for donation. Before long, the Cedeños had a filled a 20-foot-long shipping container with boxes of clothes, toys, and of course, the chainsaw.

“I think one of the most rewarding things for my husband and I was the feeling of being sort of a medium between the two cultures. The people here are happy to give and the people in Panama are so happy to receive, and we’re sort of that little connection in between,” Jennifer said. “Being that link is very rewarding, and I feel like it’s actually helping people on both ends.”

Because the relief network did not gain nonprofit status until late 2012, the Cedeños have relied on word of mouth to gather enough items from their homes, workplaces and local flea markets to send down in a return trip to Panama. The donations have poured in, so much so that the Cedeños now have several storage lockers and a shed full of supplies. Today, they require only the funds to ship the next container down.

“The support we’ve gotten has just been amazing,” Jennifer noted. “This effort is something my husband and I are very passionate about, but we can’t do it ourselves. And that support we have from everyone else who sees our cause and contributes to it, and helps us continue with this dream and passion we have, has blown me away.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or making a financial donation to the Latin American Relief Network can call Jennifer Cedeño at 443-867-8493.

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