The Salvadoran ‘hill of beans’ - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
Home » El Salvador » The Salvadoran ‘hill of beans’

Lent 2024 newsletter


Melissa & Peter Altman, El Salvador

weighing beans

Peter and Rosa weigh beans that will be distributed in Asuchio.

“In a typical week, how many days do you eat beans?”

Suzy, once a beneficiary of the Soy Nutrition Program and now a key member of the Soy Nutrition Program team, thought for a moment before responding: “Every day — sometimes whole, sometimes with rice, sometimes fried — but every day.”

food staples program sampler

Some of the food that families receive monthly through our food staples program

It’s hard for us as foreigners to understand the importance of the bean to the Salvadoran diet. As far back as the Mayan civilization, beans were one of the “Three Sisters,” along with maize (corn) and squash, and this valuable food source is still considered a daily staple for most Salvadorans. Red beans, in fact, are the most important and consistent source of protein for many.

In 2021, a family could buy a pound of beans for 50 cents. However, due to crop failures and inflation in recent years, the current retail price of beans in stores has more than doubled to an astronomical $1.35 per pound, resulting in a severe financial impact on families who are merely trying to put food on their tables.

Fortunately, the soy program has partnered with a foundation that provides us with more than 1,000 pounds of beans each month at a fraction of the market price. Every month we make an appointment at the foundation to pick up the beans, and we distribute them to more than 200 food-insecure families in the communities we serve.

But then, unthinkable news came from our partner via a text in response to our request for an appointment: Perdón, pero en este momento no hay alimentos. (Sorry. Right now there is no food.)

Our team immediately took to the phones to find the best price for beans. We couldn’t simply wait a month or two for the foundation to have more beans because we are committed to supporting the same families monthly. Thanks to a friend of a friend, we were thrilled to eventually secure a wholesale price.

Unlike most food distribution efforts in El Salvador, which are done somewhat haphazardly, often resembling a lottery, and are unreliable for families in need, the Soy Nutrition Program is a steady and reliable source of support to more than 200 families, most of whom have household incomes under $300 per month.

Rosa, a community leader in Asuchio, weighs red beans

Thanks to the generosity of donors like you, we were able to respond to this unanticipated crisis. Your support and prayers helps to feed more than 230 families who rely on the Soy Nutrition Program each month to get by during these difficult times.

We’re reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah (Is 58:10):

If you lavish your food on the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted;
Then your light shall rise in the darkness,
And your gloom shall become like midday.

It’s clear that the cost and availability of food will continue to be unpredictable throughout 2024. Please consider making a gift in support of the Soy Nutrition Program so that we can continue to be a source of reliable support to children, senior citizens and families.

Pete and Melissa


Please consider supporting our mission work at the Soy Project with a donation through the link below. You can follow us on Facebook @Soy Nutrition Program El Salvador and Instagram @soy_nutrition_elsalvador.

We also invite you to walk with us as our “COMPANIONS IN MISSION.” Companions in Mission are friends and generous donors who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information, click on the Become a Companion in Mission button belowThank you so much for your generosity! 

Melissa and Peter Altman
Melissa and Peter Altman, with their two children, Eli and Evey, are serving as Maryknoll lay missioners in El Salvador.