Encinitas orthodontist is bringing a smile to refugees in Tijuana

Local orthodontist Torin Chenard was facing a bit of a dilemma the past few years after taking over Encinitas Orthodontics in 2013.

Because his parents were the same way, Chenard has always been someone who gave back with charity work. Since becoming an orthodontist, he took multiple trips to poor areas of Costa Rica and Nepal to provide free dental work, but finding time for that was tough when he took over the business on El Camino Real.

Two months ago, he found a different way to give back by collecting blankets, food and other items for the large number of Haitian immigrants holed up in Tijuana while they wait to get through to the U.S.

“When you go and do the dentistry for free, it’s awesome,” Chenard said. “You never see a smile like that from someone that comes in and pays for it.

“Since it’s hard for me to take off that time, I figured (collecting items for the immigrants) is something I can do. I have a Sentri Pass to go right through the border and I speak Spanish.”

Estimates are that between 2,000 and 5,000 mostly Haitian but some African immigrants have made it as far as Tijuana, but the volume has overwhelmed the migration process and only a few are getting into the U.S. each day. The rest have filled the Mexican city’s shelters and are desperately in need of resources.

Chenard learned of the situation when filling in for a colleague in Chula Vista and talking to an assistant there, a woman who was already teaming up with an assistant from a third dental office to bring blankets back to Mexico, where they live.

Chenard wanted to get involved so he contacted his dental colleagues in North County, talked with his patients and even put fliers up in Starbucks, Jorge’s Mexicatessen and Pipes Café. In the past two months, he has collected 25 giant trash bags full of blankets and food, and $700 in donations.

Before making his first trip in late October, Chenard found the Movimiento Juventud 2000 shelter online and called to ask what they needed, which was blankets, jackets, food and toiletries.

“By the time they get here, they have been robbed or they’ve run out of money,” Chenard explained. “When I got the first $150 donation, I went out and bought a bunch of shampoo, toothbrushes, stuff like that, I literally went to the dollar store and filled up a cart. So I delivered that, some blankets and food. But what they really want are clothing and shoes. These guys are in flip flops and socks and it’s getting cold down there.

“So we dropped everything off and then found out where we could buy shoes for 10 bucks a pair and I bought 23 pairs of shoes (using a $500 donation a fellow North County dentist had made just a few days earlier).”

Chenard made a second trip on Nov. 20, bringing more blankets and food (the people he talked to in the shelter requested rice, beans, cooking oil and sardines) and there were still 93 people at Movimiento Juventud 2000, living in about 40 tents.

One of the drawbacks for Chenard is that the officials at the border are suspicious of him bringing all of the items across, thinking he is looking to go sell them instead of donate. The permitting process is complicated so for the two trips he’s taken himself, Chenard has opted just to pay a hefty tax on the goods to get through.

As an American, Chenard is not allowed to bring clothing across even by paying the tax.

The two assistants from Chula Vista, as well as another dentist who works in Chula Vista twice a month, are able to take loads across a couple of bags at a time on their daily commute and, with their Mexican license plates, they don’t receive the same scrutiny.

Chenard grew up just a couple hundred miles north in Redlands and Palos Verdes. He attended college at UC San Diego from 1992-1997, did his orthodontics training at University of Rochester (New York) and worked in Los Angeles for a couple of years before moving to Cardiff-by-the-Sea in 2011.

After living in Encinitas for five years, Chenard figured the community, especially his patients, would support his newest cause.

“I just wanted to see what would happen and (once they found out about it), patients are always asking about when I’m going on my next trip,” Chenard said. “The parents love getting their kids involved in the charity work. They’ve helped out a lot.

“As long as I keep getting things donated, I’ll keep getting them down there.”

For information on donating, call Encinitas Orthodontics at 760-942-4040.

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