Former business owner, volunteer likes peace and sense of community in the north

·4 min read

Volunteering is never a competition for Rita Karina Loza Cifuentes.

Loza Cifuentes, 52, has been living in Timmins since 2001. She’s an active volunteer and a former owner of 241 Pizza in Timmins.

She volunteers with St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral, Sacred Heart, Lord’s Kitchen, Good Samaritan Inn and a local school.

Volunteering is fun and is never a competition, she says.

“When you work, it’s always a competition. When you volunteer, it’s never a competition,” she says. “It’s always just collaboration. It’s the way it should be.”

Children in schools should be taught how to be team players, she adds.

Loza Cifuentes first came to Canada after her uncle, who lived in Toronto, invited her over.

It was a cold April day in 1992. Loza Cifuentes remembers seeing bare trees and brown grass.

“In my country, which is always green, if the trees lose the leaves, it’s dead. No other reason why, it’s dead,” she explains.

When she saw there were no green trees or grass, she thought, “Oh my Lord, everything is dead.”

The first time she saw the falling snow was magical and beautiful.

In Mississauga, where she lived for seven years, she worked at a refurbishment company.

“Then I met my husband, and the rest is Timmins,” she says laughing.

Loza Cifuentes has been together with her husband Ahmad, who’s from Iran, for 27 years. They met in a bar and together they have two children.

They owned a 241 Pizza franchise in Brampton and Friendly Greek in Oakville. Her husband has always had a passion for cooking for other people, and Loza Cifuentes enjoys cooking too.

Before moving to Timmins, they had opened the 241 Pizza franchise here.

Initially, Ahmad would travel between Timmins and Mississauga as Loza Cifuentes was never a fan of the cold weather.

But after their daughter was born, Loza Cifuentes wanted to be with the family, so they moved to Timmins. Their daughter was one year and one day old at the time.

When the pandemic hit, Loza Cifuentes stopped working because of her immunocompromised system. During that time, she’s taken online courses on cooking, baking and Catholic topics.

The restaurant is still open but the couple doesn't own it anymore. Loza Cifuentes says she misses her customers.

“I used to always know them, know their kids, know their grandkids,” she says.

Now, that she doesn’t work, Loza Cifuentes does “everything and nothing,” she says with a chuckle.

She likes gardening, going for walks at High Falls, cooking and trying new recipes. What she likes about living in the north is the sense of community, peace and ability to stargaze at night.

Loza Cifuentes also grows her own food. In Ecuador, it’s common to garden a variety of food and locally grown food has an actual flavour, she says.

“You get to taste the actual flavour whatever you grow,” she explains.

Loza Cifuentes is Catholic. Faith is the most important thing in her life and whatever happens - personal struggles, sickness or economic issues – she embraces it.

“My way of living, my life doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to God, it’s all in His hands,” she says. “And whatever happens to me, for good or the better because never for bad, I love it … The only thing that belongs to you is the consequences for your wrongdoing.”

She fasts twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays. She’s been doing it for five years. If she’s too hungry, she’ll have some bread and water once a day. What Loza Cifuentes finds interesting is that if she doesn’t go to the church early in the morning and have communion, she finds it very hard to fast that day.

Her only regret in life is that she didn't practise her faith earlier. She was in her 30s when she started doing it. In the future, she wants to visit the shrines to the Virgin Mary in Europe.

The Latin American community in Timmins is big, she says. There are people from Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Honduras, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Peru. Some of them have recently started gathering again, usually for kids’ birthdays and Christmas.

“Everybody speaks Spanish, everybody brings food, everybody dances,” she says.

Loza Cifuentes says she loves her culture. If she were to celebrate all Ecuadorian holidays, she would never be able to work, she jokes, so her family only celebrates Christmas, New Year and Easter.

Her children speak Spanish, French and English. Loza Cifuentes told them if they wanted to visit Ecuador to see her family that only speaks Spanish, the kids needed to learn the language.

She has been participating in the Timmins Multicultural Festival for over 16 years. For the event, she would cook empanadas, chicken rice and beef rice, and wear traditional clothing called anaco, which was bought in Otavalo and mailed to Loza Cifuentes by her mother.

“Being Latina is the best thing ever,” she says.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com

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