Coon Rapids program is helping give Haiti hope, one meal at a time

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 2012 - 1:18 AM

Feed My Starving Children, which has a long history of providing food aid to Haiti, is stepping in to help Caribbean victims of Hurricane Sandy.

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Volunteers pack nutritious meals at Feed My Starving Children’s permanent site in Coon Rapids.

Photo: , Feed My Starving Children

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Feed My Starving Children, the Coon Rapids-based nonprofit, will mark its 25th anniversary this week with a celebration Friday at the Minneapolis Convention Center. At the same time, the organization will be continuing its battle against hunger around the globe, notably in Haiti, one of the places that was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy before the storm ravaged the Northeast United States.

Junior Obrand, 28, a native of Haiti who works for Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), coordinates the nonprofit's food aid to the Caribbean.

Although FMSC isn't a disaster-relief organization, it has stepped in to help in Sandy's aftermath. "Since we're already in Haiti, we felt we needed to help," he said.

So far, 500,000 meals from FMSC -- which also has locations in Eagan and Chanhassen -- have gone to hurricane victims in Haiti. And this week another half-million meals are bound for Cuba, which also was battered by the storm.

In a move that now seems providential, the organization offered an extra shipment of food to one of its private distributors in Haiti, a mission called Love a Child, nearly a month ago, without knowing that the hurricane was coming.

"It was just one container and we knew that Love a Child would share it around Haiti," he said.

With that shipment containing 272,000 meals, plus other resources that have been redeployed, Love a Child has been able to deliver FMSC's special rice formula called MannaPacks to some of the island nation's worst-off villages.

The mission also put MannaPacks into numerous disaster relief buckets, along with dry clothes, sandals and blankets, and it loaded up pallets with the food aid, according to FMSC.

In a joint e-mail from Haiti, Love a Child directors Bobby and Sherry Burnette state that in a place where "there is no FEMA, no humanitarian relief to bring food to starving families with children," there's no telling what would've happened without the FMSC assistance.

"FMSC has been such a blessing, especially now through all these floods," they add.

Doing his part

All over the south and southwest areas of Haiti, homes, crops, bridges and roads are gone, while at least 54 are dead. The storm also has raised concerns about a potential new cholera outbreak.

Recently, Obrand heard from a cousin who was stranded on the rooftop of her house for more than 24 hours with her two children due to the high floodwaters. "She told me that it rained for four days," he said. "That means everyone is stuck. They can't go anywhere."

Meanwhile, a friend, along with 14 children from the orphanage he runs, has been without food and water for a week. "I'm trying to connect him with our partners who have food to save those kids," he said.

At a time like this, "I would like to be down there and helping, but I'm doing my part here," he said.

In fact, Obrand had planned to be in Haiti last week with a small group of FMSC staff and volunteers, but a key bridge that connects the country to the Dominican Republic was washed away. As a result, FMSC decided to hold off until later this month, he said.

The big picture

When it comes to Haiti, the largest and poorest country that FMSC serves, combating hunger is a long-term endeavor, he said.

Even before the hurricane, 370,000 were living in makeshift dwellings as a result of the 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country in January of 2010.

Generally speaking, progress is slow. "If you live there, you don't see the change," he said.

FMSC is tackling the problem by focusing on food assistance. It's a top priority because "if children aren't fed, they can't think about the future," he said. "They're just thinking, 'am I going to make it today?' "

It's something that the 25-year-old organization set out to change. "We're trying to help get meals to people so they can see the bigger picture in Haiti," he said.

FMSC Executive Director Mark Crea echoed that: "We're creating oases of wellness," he said, adding, "You see these villages and pockets begin to stabilize and lift themselves up."

Even though it's tough to see it right now, "This is a solvable problem," he said. "We can make an impact on malnutrition and starvation."

Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.

  • MORE INFO

    To learn more about Feed My Starving Children or to volunteer, check out www.fmsc.org or call 763-504-2919.

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