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Haley Downs was one of the 50 students from Zimmerman High School who packed 26,568 meals during their two-hour shift at Feed My Starving Children in Coon Rapids.

Anna Pratt, Special to the Star Tribune

WHAT TO LEARN MORE?

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

Coon Rapids group still battling hunger in Haiti

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • January 26, 2012 - 8:20 AM

When Matt Muraski arrived in Haiti just weeks after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, he was struck by the sight of street vendors setting up shop alongside damaged buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince.

For Muraski, director of international programs at Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), a Coon Rapids-based nonprofit that provides food aid to impoverished nations worldwide, the precarious setup showed "they were trying to get back to normal life."

Two years after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which killed as many as 316,000 people and displaced 1.5 million, rebuilding continues and the needs remain constant.

FMSC, which relies on volunteers to pack meals, is trying to keep public attention on the issue, especially this month, the anniversary of the earthquake.

"What people need to realize is that being hungry, not having food, is a constant emergency state," said Muraski.

Every year, FMSC -- which has a long relationship with Haiti that predates the quake -- sends 40 percent of its food products to the country, he said. Ultimately, the goal is to lay the groundwork for development.

Already this month, FMSC has shipped at least 272,000 meals to Haiti, and more will go out, according to Mandi Cherico, a spokesperson for the organization. FMSC also sells Haitian handicrafts.

Despite the progress, "There's hardly a place that you can stand and not see poverty," Muraski commented. The country is characterized by unfinished, windowless cement-block homes and open sewage, while extensive deforestation has made it vulnerable to flooding and other woes, he said.

To make matters worse, Haiti has struggled in recent years with political tension and a cholera epidemic, Muraski said. "It's a destitute place. Even where it's nicer, it's rugged living."

Muraski, who'll be traveling to Haiti again before hurricane season, which begins in June, says that "onward" is the word. You can get discouraged but you can't let yourself do that for long," he said.

Packing meals for Haiti

Cassandra Klein, who teaches at Zimmerman High School, brought 50 students to FMSC in Coon Rapids on Jan. 12 to help pack food.

"A lot of them, when they find out that many students [in Haiti] go to school to eat a meal and it might be the only meal they have that day, they're shocked by that," she said.

It motivates the Zimmerman students when they see that "their efforts that day change someone's life. That's really rewarding for them."

On the way back, when the busload stopped for lunch, "A lot of them didn't want to buy anything. They thought, 'We just fed all these people. If we just used a couple of dollars from our lunch, think about how many people it would feed,' " she said.

Senior Gavin Doppler agreed that the experience was eye-opening. "I realized how simple it is to help other people," he said.

He and a number of classmates struck up a friendly competition to see who could pack the most food. "It reminded me of working at a NASCAR pit stop," he said, adding, "It was fun and almost a race, which helped the cause even more."

Altogether, the students packed 26,568 meals during their two-hour shift.

Steve Bonesho, pastor of both River of Joy Lutheran Church in Prior Lake and St. Mary Magdalene Lutheran Church in Savage, also was on hand.

He said he's struck by the Haitians' resilience amid "mind-blowing" circumstances.

"They are a people in the middle of a whole lot of despair and yet they have a spirit about them that's really life-giving," he said.

Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.

© 2014 Star Tribune