Interview with Elda M. Devarie, President and CEO of EMD Sales, Inc.
Elda M.Devarie is President and CEO of EMD Sales, Inc., and creator and mastermind behind Bolsas de Amor (Bags of Love), the community outreach project that unites Hispanic businesses to achieve a common goal: to help families in need. EMD Sales Inc., is a minority, family owned food distribution business of ethnic food products and wines, located in Baltimore, MD. They distribute a variety of popular International products such as Inka Cola, and La Banderita Tortillas, with a common denominator in mind, to "introduce fast moving products that can go across the barriers among a variety of ethnic groups".
I recently had the pleasure of talking with Elda Devarie about Bolsas de Amor, as well as the challenges she’s had to overcome and the motivation behind her great success. She is truly an inspirational person with a kind demeanor and a good heart.
Each year, the Bolsas de Amor campaign brings together Hispanic businesses and organizations in the community for the purpose of helping families in need by distributing boxes of food provided by international food brands and supermarkets. Families are considered based upon submissions by community organizations, as well as letters with petitions for support. This year’s event, which took place in February, spanned across 4 states with 34 distribution locations. With the help of over 120 volunteers, 800 boxes were of food products were donated, each including a $25 gift certificate from sponsors.
Bolsas de Amor was inspired, Devarie told me, by an article about the current state of the food bank written by Alberto Avendaño of El Tiempo Latino. Avendaño talked about how the food bank that particular year was at its lowest in inventory of food products for families in need. Devarie found the article very enlightening, particularly because that during the winter months the donations to the food bank are generally lower, and there’s just not enough food to go around. “Everyone is so generous during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but then when winter really sets in, there is a lack of food”, Devarie told me. So, as a longtime friend of Avendaño and El Tiempo Latino, she decided to do something about it. “I have food, you have the media behind you”, she told Avendaño and El Tiempo Latino. “Why don’t we sit down together and put something together so we can help those families in need.” “So, that’s how Bags of Love came about…It was just two friends talking after he wrote that article in the newspaper.”
To be the successful and admirable business woman she is today, Devarie had to overcome many challenges, but she has also remained appreciative in the process:
“Like any immigrant when you come to a different country, not having your family nearby, and learning everything from zero, it makes you appreciate so much when you prosper and you do well, and the opportunities that people give you. All of this a way of thanking, first of all, God, because he has never let anything bad happen to me…Yes, it’s true, I have worked very hard for what I have, for what we have developed as a company, but you have to be grateful to the people who have lent you a hand, and to the people who gave you opportunity through the years… we’re grateful for our community in general. They give us so much, and we want to give back to them.”
Devarie loves the work she does, but most of all, she confesses it’s getting to know people and showing others the important role that Hispanics play in our society that she values most:
“At the end of the day, our businesses are a way to do something better, to change the way people look at us as Hispanics, and as immigrants…to show who we are and what we do… that the Hispanic community is here to contribute, that we are honorable, hardworking people that have come to this country to work hard, and to contribute, not just to our families, but to the Nation…I think it’s a great mission…we all have a mission in life, and when you find your mission, I think you’re happy.”
One of the major benefits of Bolsas de Amor is that not only does it help families in need, but the work itself is very rewarding. In this year’s event, Devarie shared with me some memorable moments that make it all worthwhile:
“We had a man from Gainesville that actually came to the distribution location to thank us and the State Farm Insurance agent there for his family being chosen but he wanted that box to go to another family…At the time when his family was chosen, he was unemployed and because he got a job, he wanted to give that box to a family that needed it more than him….I thought that was so incredible that someone would be so generous to say ‘I found a job, I am so grateful for you thinking of me, but I want you to give it to someone that doesn’t have a job, rather than my family, because I’m working now’.”
Devarie told me another story of a gentleman who was selected but wasn’t able to come and pick up his box because he was blind. A volunteer then stepped forward and offered to personally deliver the box to the man so he could enjoy it with his family. “Things like that…when you hear those stories, those are the moments when you say ‘wow, it’s much more than just food, and a $25 gift certificate, it’s an opportunity for people to show that we care about each other, and we want to help each other….It fills our hears with joy, and not just me, everyone that gets involved.”
The Bolsas de Amor campaign receives requests from all over. Devarie has even received letters from prisoners such as one saying ‘I am in jail, and I know I’ve done something wrong, but my family needs help, could you please help them.’ “It is those things that are just so touching, and we don’t forget..” Devarie confessed. “It just makes it so rewarding… We love doing it. We are blessed and we have to share the blessing.”
When I asked Devarie what inspires her, she told me this inspiring story:
“I remember starting the business going store by store, selling from the back of a minivan, and I’ll never forget this wonderful little Nicaraguan lady, sitting in the parking lot of one of the Hispanic stores selling her tamales. Here she is, in this country with little education, but that desire to do well and work hard…and her art was to make tamales…she would make her tamales, go to the market, buy the ingredients, and in her little apartment, she would make her tamales for all of us to enjoy. So I had lunch every week in that little parking lot in front of that store with her with my two tamalitos and a cocacola... She really inspired me, because I’m thinking, here we are, many of us as immigrants, we have some education, we have certain skills…but here she is, a talented individual, she has an art in her hands, to make tamales, and she shared it with us. She made her apartment and put her children through school from the sales of her tamales, so can you imagine how much you have to admire someone like that… She’s an incredible individual. Who am I to say that people should see me as a role model, when you have somebody with so many challenges but there are no challenges for her. She just did it and did it well. You know, her kids have grown, and done well in life, so that is amazing…”
“..We forget.. sometimes we forget.. we see people doing the hard work…work that other people may not want to do….but people don’t realize what others sacrifice to put food on the table, to put their kids through school, and to make sure they go to college, even though they weren’t’ able to do it themselves..”
Devarie credits her success to hard work, perseverance, and faith:
“You’ve gotta have faith in yourself, you’ve gotta have faith in the world, and you’ve gotta have faith in God that he’s providing for you every step of the way. You have to be hard working, you have to persevere, but you have to have faith in all of those things to be able to make it. In the good times and the bad ones, you can’t quit.”
As far as advice to give aspiring entrepreneurs, Devarie leaves us this message:
"Never quit. For many people, there are many moments when you just want to go to a corner and cry. It’s OK, go to the corner and cry. Let it out, but then go and then go and wash your face, and if you’re a lady, put lipstick on and get back out there and do it again, and don’t give up. Sometimes the road has many turns, and maybe the initial road is not the correct one, but if you persevere, if you find your way, you’re going to find your passion. And if you love what you do, the opportunities for success are so much greater.”
As for future projects, Devarie says she will continue to think of new ways to improve Bolsas de Amor. She wanted express her gratitude and appreciation to the media and the community for all of their contributions. “It is so nice to see that competitors joined forces to do this… When we put our hands together we are stronger and we can do so much more.”
You can help support Bolsas de Amor by making a donation volunteering. For more information you may call EMD Sales Inc. directly at 301.322.4503 (ex 113), or visit them online.