Bluffton Packet

Family mission: Bluffton in-laws travel to Colombia to help

Oscar Castrillon was an instant hit with his future in-laws. But then again, his unselfish act should be worthy of anyone's acceptance.

Castrillon, who is engaged to the daughter of Elizabeth and Joe Walsh of Bluffton, began a personal crusade to help underprivileged families in his native country of Colombia in South America. For the past two years, he and his fiancee, Amy Walsh, traveled to his homeland and distributed food and gifts to underprivileged families. The couple lives in Tampa, Fla., where Castrillon, 31, owns wireless phone stores.

In December, Castrillon's future in-laws followed his lead and joined the mission.

"The first time he told us about it, I didn't think it was real," said Joe Walsh, a full-time businessman and volunteer firefighter with the Bluffton Township Fire District. "And then he showed us a video from the year before and it put tears in my eyes."

The group's nine-day journey began a few days before Christmas, allowing for time to buy hundreds of small toys and food. The Walshes stayed with Castrillon, who owns a home in Cartago, where his son and daughter from his first marriage live.

For two long days, the group delivered goods to remote mountain and river villages near Cartago, some ravaged by floods that left families without basic necessities, including fresh water. Castrillon arranged deliveries by boats, dump trucks, pickups and even ambulance.

"I was thrilled my parents came. I'd been bugging them for a while," Amy Walsh, 27, said. "I wanted them to see Oscar's country, see new things and experience new foods. I wanted them to be a part of what he's doing."

Castrillon also received help from 175 volunteer members of the Colombian Civil Defense, many of them medically trained. His mission became so wide-known throughout the region that some volunteers were turned away.

"I couldn't believe it. I actually have a friend of mine who connected me to the Civil Defense," Castrillon said. "The response from these people was just amazing. I was blown away."

During the first year, Castrillon gave away 200 gifts and 75 food baskets that had enough supplies to feed a family of four for one week. This time he doubled the contribution and spent about $2,000. Elizabeth and Joe Walsh contributed about $1,000.

"I have my own business, and I figure I don't need that much," Castrillon said. "With so little, these people get so much out of it. Giving is a no-brainer."

Castrillon hopes to get more people involved in the cause. He can count on his in-laws for more work. Joe Walsh said he and his wife plan to return to Colombia at the end of the year.

"It was a lot more moving than I thought it was gong to be," Joe Walsh said. "It went way beyond our expectations on how many people we helped."