By Claire Harlin
Mary Faller and Michael Clayton are like the Salvation Army of Solana Beach. Or at least that’s what they’ve been called.
The two local residents drive around to construction sites, garages sales and the like picking up unwanted items — some hidden gems — and they each take an entire truckload down to Mexico to donate to those in less fortunate communities. Clayton goes on Tuesdays and Faller goes on Thursdays. And they do this once a week.
“It’s a joy for me. It has so many dimensions because we are helping people and the environment. We are taking down truckloads of things that would have ended up in the landfill,” said Faller, who pays import fees of up to $100 each week out-of-pocket. Clayton recently was awarded a grant through The Wheel Foundation to help with the fees.
Much of the items delivered contribute to home builds, which Faller also helps facilitate. Under the Unitarian Fellowship in Solana Beach, she connects people interested in volunteering and helps them raise the money for homes, which cost about $4,000 each to build.
In April, for example, three sixth-grade classes from Skyline Elementary School raised money to build two homes through bake sales, a parents’ night out event and charity “fun run.” Although the project wasn’t school-sanctioned, about 65 kids and parents went with Faller to build the homes.
Faller got behind home build projects for the first time about 15 years ago when she participated in a home build as part of a yearly service project of her husband’s employer, Flextronics.
She loved the project, but she thought there should be some kind of follow-up with the families in need that move into the homes.
“I felt there was such a greater need and I see all the resources here in Solana Beach and the desire to give, but people aren’t really sure who to give to,” she said.
In 2006, Faller embarked on her first independent home build project, and she has since spearheaded about 16 homes and one community center, all in the same community nestled in the countryside 30 minutes from Tijuana.
Faller has developed a close, trusting relationship with the Mexican community there, and the community members help her pick out which families are next in line to get a home. The requirements are that the family is in need, has children and owns land.
“We don’t want to build on someone else’s land and [then have the family lose the home],” she said, adding that much of the land there is developed by the Mexican government and sold as low-income land. There is usually no water or sewage on these parcels.
One home built recently was for a family of six that was living in a minivan, Faller said.
Faller is well-received in the Baja community and has not experienced the dangers of Tijuana that are often reported in the news, she said.
“Where we go, it’s a neighborhood just like Solana Beach,” she said. “They all know my truck and I’m really well-protected … I had a flat tire once there and within minutes there were people there to help me. It’s one of the most loving environments you can imagine.”
Clayton became involved with transporting materials to Mexico after meeting Faller and becoming attached to her cause. Clayton had a stroke three years ago at the age of 37, and becoming involved in the efforts has been helpful in his recovery. The weekly trips have not only helped him recover his driving ability, but he has regained his fluency in Spanish.
“He came with me once and really wanted to continue helping,” said Faller. “The first year, he and I came together every week.”
Faller, who works full-time as a business coach in addition to her volunteer efforts, said people often ask her why she is so dedicated to Mexico, when there are people in need in the United States.
“My answer is that I can have a much bigger impact there,” she said. “The reality is that we have safety nets. We don’t have kids that are starving; we have kids that aren’t eating like they should. But there, I see kids go who go days without food.
“We’ve created this artificial barrier and because of it there’s a whole population of people with huge needs,” Faller continued. “[In Mexico], there is more of a need, more of an impact and plus, I’m an adventurer.”
To contact Faller or inquire about material pick-up or arranging a home build, call (858) 755-3799.