For over a week now we have been fed a constant stream of tragic images from Haiti. We want to help but we want to know that our dollars are going to the right places. This is a story about one organization that you may not have heard of before, that needs your help now. Mary’s Meals has been working in Haiti since 2006 providing meals and schooling for children i n schools in the cities of Cite Soleil, Gonaives and Hinche, Haiti. The massive earthquake in Haiti killed seminarians, street children and their parents and has destroyed the seven schools and feeding centers operated by Mary’s Meals and other partner organizations.
“What it hasn’t destroyed is their hope,” said Albert Holder, Chair of Mary’s Meals USA, Inc. Catholic Exchange talked to Holder and asked him how people can help. We also learned about the story of a remarkable Catholic priest who is trying to rebuild lives that were already shattered before the quake.
“What we need is your prayers, and whatever you can give to help us reopen our schools and feeding centers. We don’t understand the mysteries of God and how he works, but we do know that good will come out of this and people will be taken care of,” said Holder.
Haiti ‘s Poverty
Haiti, as everyone knows now, is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is ill-prepared to deal with the aftermath of an earthquake that has devastated its country. Prior to the earthquake, Mary’s Meals was serving 12,000 meals to children at seven school centers, where the parents of the children were trained and paid to serve the meals. It was a formula that Mary’s Meals uses all over the world to strengthen and nourish families.
“Now those centers have been destroyed and we are trying to rush in supplies to set up tents and provide food and medical supplies to re-establish ourselves and help those families,” said Holder.
As people have begun to stream out of Port au Prince, Mary’s Meals has established their first tent center in the town of Hinche, about 70 miles north of the capitol city. “We plan to partner with other relief organizations to provide medical supplies, food, water and set up an educational center for these families,” said Holder.
“It may seem odd to try to get back to normal now, but this is exactly what these families need–some sense of normal. Providing meals and a place for the street kids to go to school is the best thing we can do for them, as quickly as possible,” Holder explained.
Mary’s Meals takes their inspiration from Mother Teresa. “One of things that she said that I think is very powerful is that if you can’t help 100 people, help just one. We take that to heart. That’s all we can do. Reach out and spread the love of Christ when they are so needy,” said Holder.
Father Tom Hagan’s story
Up until 1989, Father Tom Hagan lived a comfortable life as the campus chaplain for Princeton University. That all changed after taking a group of affluent students to Haiti and seeing the abject poverty of particularly the children there. That led to Father Hagan to form an organization called “Hands Together” that worked to feed and educate children in the poorest, slums of Port au Prince. In 1997, Father Tom moved to Haiti to personally direct the efforts there and in 2006 began a partnership with Mary’s Meals.
When the earthquake struck, friends of Father Hagan had no way of knowing if he was OK, or if he had even survived. Finally a call came through the next day letting people back in the USA know that Father Hagan was being flown back to Miami for treatment of a head wound. Two days later Father Hagan was back to assist his organization and Mary’s Meals re-establish operations to help feed and educate those that have survived the devastation.
Mary’s Meals is an international movement to set up school feeding projects in communities where poverty and hunger prevent children from gaining an education. It was named for Our Blessed Mother and originally started in 1993 in Croatia. Today, it provides daily meals in school for over 375,000 children in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
Mary’s Meals not only addresses the immediate needs of hungry children by giving them a daily meal, it also allows those children to receive an education that can provide an escape from poverty for themselves and their communities.
Holder is based out of Miami, but says Mary’s Meals also has a strong stateside presence in both Chicago and Pennsylvania. Cash donations work best for their organization at this point in time. And since their organization is almost entirely volunteer-based, 93% of all the money they raise goes directly to their projects. For information on how to help, or for daily updates on the progress you go can to the websites listed below.
Holder, a volunteer leader himself, is inspired by all the people who have stepped up to help Haiti, ” As the word gets people have been really trying to do whatever they can to help, it is really inspiring.”