Our journey

There isn’t a life on this planet that hasn’t experienced despair, but there are some lives where despair is perhaps the only experience. How often have you met a five year old who has lost his entire family to an earthquake? Have you heard a mother cry, because she hasn’t a kernel of corn to fill the swollen bellies of her children? Have you felt the helplessness of a father, who cannot provide for his family a tin roof when the rain comes down hard?

These are not just words or photo essays from some distant foreign land. These are stories much closer to home. They are vignettes which portray the lives of those who live in the poverty stricken, disaster prone world of Central and South America.

Inspired by his patron San Lorenzo who said, “the poor are the treasures of the church”, the Caravan of Hope, originally known as Flor de Izote, is the result of Fr. Astudillo's vision in creating a project to support the people of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Venezuela, Uruguay, Bolivia and Peru …wherever hope is in despair.

With the support of Linda McGlade and the San Lorenzo Parish and in partnership with the City of Toronto and the Fire Department, Fr. Astudillo established the Caravan of Hope in February 2001 in response to the two earthquakes that struck El Salvador that year. Killing 1,142 people, destroying more than 200,000 homes and leaving 1.3 million homeless, the earthquakes were the impetus for the establishment of this unique project.

The generous contributions of companies, churches, communities, charitable organizations and individuals assisted the Caravan in its efforts to raise funds in order to purchase decommissioned school buses and ship 11 containers filled to the brim with emergency supplies. In July 2001, the first Caravan rolled out with 5 buses packed to the brim with dried food, clothing, water, school materials and medical supplies. Traveling a distance of 6,000 km through the USA, Mexico and Guatemala, the Caravan touched many lives along the way. While the aid brought relief to the disaster stricken communities in El Salvador, the buses were donated to impoverished communities, improving their diminished public transportation system.

Since 2001, four more Caravans have undertaken this journey to spread hope. In 2002, six buses were driven down to El Salvador once again laden with supplies. In 2003, five buses made the trip to El Salvador and Guatemala and in 2004, seven buses made their way to El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. In 2005, four buses made their way to El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Thus in all, 31 buses have seen a new life in Central America, providing relief in the form of transportation and in some cases becoming mobile health clinics and libraries.

As of 2008, in partnership with the Emergency Medical Services of Toronto, Councillor Joe Mihevc and the City of Toronto, San Lorenzo volunteers have driven four ambulances down to El Salvador where they were donated to Soyapango. The City has developed a close relationship with Soyapango and are supporting it in its development and growth.

As the years progress, the Caravan and its message of solidarity and hope, become entrenched in the hearts and minds of those who receive its bounty and those who support its goals.