This month’s contractor feature story covers Antigua Mechanical in Manchester NJ. The company is interesting not only because it is a woman-owned firm, but also because the owner, Deb Page and her husband, Jim, have found a way to weave international and local philanthropy into the company. Or maybe… the philanthropy wove itself in.
Their story is remarkable, and it all starts with the company name: Antigua.
Antigua is one of two villages in Guatemala where Deb and Jim go every year to provide volunteer hours, financial aid and hand tools, of all things. Their time spent in Guatemala, once or twice each year, has drastically changed the way they view the world, their lives, and their ability to impact others.
“Jim first went to Guatemala in 2010, before we got married,” said Deb. “He had just emerged from a rough divorce after 18 years of marriage, and the time spent volunteering in poverty-stricken villages was a cathartic experience. He fell in love with Guatemala, but was deeply saddened by the amount of need among the local people.”
In the villages surrounding Antigua, Jim witnessed all variety of heartbreak. Most of the indigenous people living in Guatemala are not very well liked by the Latino population. These people do not have the opportunities those in the city are given.
They live in slums or homes with dirt floors. Electric is rare and indoor plumbing non-existent. Theindigenous women live to work in fields and raise children. The average age for pregnancy is about 13 years old. Many teenaged girls are not in school because their families can’t afford it. They’re made to work all day from the age of 4. Many children have simply been abandoned. Malnourishment and medical problems run rampant.
“Jim came home from that first trip with a charge to do everything he could to return, this time with more than an able body and skilled hands,” said Deb.
A contagious passion to help
Once Deb and Jim started dating in 2011, Jim helped Deb get her passport so that they could both return to Guatemala. In March of 2012, Deb made her first trip down. They took a pile of hand tools with them in addition to school and medical supplies.
They made a video of that trip, called Antigua Mechanical Tool Drop:
“The idea to take tools to Guatemala stemmed from Jim’s first trip, when he found himself digging mud victims out during tropical storm Agetha,” explained Deb. “He was frustrated with the lack of basic tools. Knowing he had thousands of tools in the States, he hatched the idea of donating tools by the crate load. He helped an NGO (non-governmental organization) called “As Green as It Gets” start a town tool shed. Anyone who needed a tool could go there and sign it out. When I started Antigua Mechanical, in February 2012, we continued his dream.”
More recently, Jim and Deb have concentrated their efforts and visits on the village of Antigua and San Marcos. There are no roads to San Marcos. You have to drive to Lake Atitlan, and then catch a boat. In San Marcos and Antigua, Deb and Jim help two organizations: The Integral Heart Foundation and The Konojel Family.
Integral Heart Foundation is a school with 80 plus children. Before Integral Heart finds children, most of the kids are homeless and living alone in garbage dumps. They’re paired with foster parents, and the organization picks the kids up by bus each day. They are fed three square meals and given one of the finest educations to be had in Guatemala. The Integral Heart Foundation also gives college scholarships to kids who graduate from their school program. College grads are contracted to return and teach at the school for two years.
The Konojel Family teaches impoverished, abused woman how to read, write, and run a commercial kitchen. Because these women are from the mountains where they have their own indigenous language, the organization even teaches them Spanish. While learning to become commercial cooks, they feed many malnourished elderly people and children.
Last year, they asked Deb and Jim for tools. It turns out that many foreign backpacking tourist want to help them with improvements while in the area. In the past, the organization has had to turn volunteers away because they didn’t have any tools. With the new tools, they’re expanding their operations, opening new kitchens and restaurants, and using the tools to help teach battered woman a trade.
Above: A Guatemalan jade cutter revieves a donated Dremel. The various charities that receive donated tools use them for construction and teaching trades.
“On our last ‘tool run’ this past October, we donated 500 pounds of power and hand tools to the Konojel Family,” said Deb. “We collect these tools throughout the year by asking customers if they have any old, working tools that they don’t need anymore. People are very generous. Then Jim and I go to Harbor Freight and buy all new belts, blades, bits and everything needed to support the tools.”
“It’s not like these people can save their money and take a bus into the city to buy a drill at Home Depot,” she continued. “They risk getting robbed or killed by gangs as soon as they walk out of the store. So they mostly use hand tools, many of which are homemade. Some of these people are carpenters, masons, welders, plumbers, electricians and so on. We give them power drills, reciprocating saws, circular saws, band saws, chain saws, hammers, extension cords, power inverters, etc.”
They once donated eight variable speed blower motors, new in the box. The following year, one of the carpenters built homemade power sanders with them, table saws and lathes. Another time, a farmer built a macadamia nut cracker out of a blower motor by welding a piece of steel to the shaft. He then bolted it inside a couple 55 gallon drums and used that to crack the extremely hard shells. Necessity is the mother of invention.
The need continues
As if working hard all year to provide aid to Integral Heart and The Konojel Family wasn’t enough, Deb and Jim are constantly seeking more ways to help. They recently raised money for a gentleman named Jay Jackson, a former U.S. Marine who is currently building homes for the recent volcano victims. Jay has a knack for being wherever he is most needed. He runs a crew of goodhearted misfits that do all kinds of construction work to help just about everyone. More information about Jay’s mission can be found on Facebook.
Back in the States, Deb and Jim help local non-profits, too. They raise money for A Need, We Feed in Toms River, NJ, that feeds wounded veterans and people in need throughout Ocean County. They make delicious gourmet meals for people who otherwise might go hungry. A few well-known chefs in the area close down their restaurants to prepare the meals. In July, Deb and Jim donated $600 to the charity.
And when there’s a need right across the street, Antigua Mechanical is the best neighbor anyone could ask for. Like earlier this spring, Deb donated $1,400 to a neighbor whose daughter is battling leukemia.
A great deal of the money raised by Deb and Jim is sourced from what they like to call “The Magic Garden.”
Above: The “Magic Garden” is 85 x 90 feet.
Their huge home garden is planted with organic vegetables and flowers. From May through November, they put the produce up for donation. All the money collected goes to charity. They maintain a Facebook page that keeps donors informed.
Above: The garden provides veggies and flowers to raise money for charity.
“People come to see the garden, and they often leave tools under the tent in our driveway,” said Deb. “We sometimes take veggies to our HVAC customers, too.”
“Giving in these ways has greatly enriched our lives,” continued Deb. “Sometimes we visit people in Guatemala that we’ve given tools too in the past. It’s amazing to witness how much their lives have improved from that simple act. I guess having a circular saw gives them a lot more confidence. Kids who were too poor to own shoes before now have shoes on their feet. But most of the time it’s the hugs we get from a lot of people down there that shows their appreciation. Jim and I can’t imagine where we’d be without the desire to give.”