“We are excited about many things; one being our revamped website which was launched just one week ago,” Albert Perez, managing member of Continental Fresh, headquartered in Miami, FL, told The Produce News March 7. “The site, www.continentalfresh.com, describes our product line and our services. It also shares information about our growers, and it tells the story of our ongoing humanitarian efforts.”
In the case of Mr. Perez and his wife, Maria Ines Compres, who serves as the chief financial officer for the company, humanitarian efforts start at home. The couple adopted their six-year-old daughter, Isabella, from the Dominican Republic.
“The adoption process was quite an ordeal,” said Mr. Perez. “It took 15 months to get the adoption papers processed before we could bring her back to the U.S. My wife stayed with her in the Dominican Republic during those months while I flew back and forth to manage our business. We were finally able to bring them home in December of 2007. I traveled to the country 13 times in 15 months.”
Continental Fresh specializes in importing offshore produce. Its line of cucumbers, seedless watermelons, pickles and butternut, acorn and spaghetti squashes are produced in Honduras. Its mangos are produced in several countries in South America and Central America.
The couple’s humanitarian projects are focused on people and communities in the Dominican Republic that need assistance.
“I started doing humanitarian work in the country when I was in high school, about 30 years ago,” said Mr. Perez. “Every year in the summer we take a group of volunteers to develop a project that will help families or a community. For example, we have constructed water aqueducts in schools. There have been many times when a customer will join us in volunteering on a summer project. The really neat thing is that I’ve been able to share this experience with my customers. This summer the 16-year-old son of a California customer is traveling with us to help build an aqueduct for the community of Las Uvas.
Mr. Perez founded the non-profit organization LIFO Missions to develop self-help projects in remote regions of the Dominican Republic. Since 1985 it has helped some of the poorest people in the country to improve their living conditions and consequently, their education, health and future prospects. LIFO Missions, for example, supports poor villages with materials and volunteers to provide clean running water where it has never been available.
The summer 2013 project in Las Uvas is near Puerto Plata in the province of Puerto Plata. The 300 families — approximately 1,500 villagers — have never had running water. As in many towns in the Dominican Republic, women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection in the majority of households.
“Once the aqueduct is completed, women will be free to pursue new opportunities and improve their families’ lives,” said Mr. Perez. “Kids can earn their education and build the future of their communities. A clean water project nearby means more than safe drinking water to women and children; it means time, freedom and incentive to change their communities.”
The project will provide the area’s residents with safe running water to every home. The total cost of the project is $18,595.64. All of the non-technical labor is done personally and donated by LIFO volunteers and members of the communities. All volunteers pay for their own travel expenses.
“Because I am an import company, my busy season is from September through May,” said Mr. Perez. “We plan these projects in the summer months when we can give them our full attention.”
He noted that all of the company’s imported crops have been high quality and good volumes this year.
“The cooler-than-normal weather in Mexico has put added demand on our products from Honduras,” said Mr. Perez. “As a result we have enjoyed very strong markets this year. When we wrap up we will have brought more than 1,000 containers of produce from Honduras for the season.”