In anticipation of the 40-day Lenten season, parishioners from
Church of the Nativity in Burke, Va., journeyed to Haiti Feb. 6-10 to witness how their generosity has transformed the lives of hundreds of families who once lived in deplorable conditions. Leading the mission group was Father Richard Martin, pastor of Nativity and the originator of Food For The Poor’s Operation Starfish® program.
For 14 years, Fr. Martin has attributed the growth and success of his parish to partnering with Food For The Poor through the Operation Starfish program. The program encourages families to engage fully in the sacrificial spirit of Lent by giving parishioners the opportunity for spiritual reflection and the ability to make daily sacrifices to benefit those who are suffering. The program encourages individuals to deposit 50 cents or more each day to help the poor. At the end of Lent, when all donations are collected, housing, education and medical programs for the destitute will be funded through Food For The Poor.
“There is no greater honor and privilege than to be able to bring the basic necessities of life to those who need them,” said Bonnie DelBalzo, a Winchester, Va. resident, who has participated in Operation Starfish since 2005. “Operation Starfish allows us the opportunity to help one person, one family at a time, and to be inspired to continue as we see the joy, hope and comfort these donations can bring. What a blessing to be part of Operation Starfish projects and to work with such an efficient model of relief services through Food For The Poor.”
Nativity’s annual trip offered parishioners the opportunity to walk through Shada, an appalling Cap-Haitien slum with no access to clean water, where the smell of garbage and burning trash fills the air. Afterwards, the group traveled to the parish’s sixth village, “Nativity Village at Chastenoye,” where 50 homes were built for 50 families who were relocated from Shada.
“Through Operation Starfish, we have been able to partner with others as disciples of Christ to bring hope and dignity to the poor,” said DelBalzo, when she returned from the trip. “It is through us that God shows His love, mercy and faithfulness to the suffering and needy - and in seeing where He is working and listening to what He asks us to do through the Holy Spirit, we can experience Him in a meaningful and fulfilling way as He works in us and through us to accomplish His purposes.”
Parishioners also had the opportunity to meet the families for whom they fulfilled the dream of homeownership in the parish’s seventh village, “Nativity Village in Mazere,” in Cap-Haitien. This village of 100 permanent homes was constructed with Nativity Parish’s 2011 Lenten collection.
“This village provides so much more than just 100 new sturdy homes with sanitation,” said Jim McDaniel, a Nativity parishioner and Food For The Poor staff member. “There is a water filtration system, a community center for vocational training, and agricultural projects – this way the people can grow their own crops and generate revenue to become self-sustaining.”
In addition to visiting several villages, the group saw and heard firsthand accounts about the harsh realities of life in developing countries. Fishermen at Nativity’s Tilapia Farm and Nursery in Petit Anse harvested three buckets of fish to show Food For The Poor donors their appreciation and how the fish are distributed in the community, as well as sold at market.
Group members also distributed meals to approximately 560 inmates in a Cap-Haitien prison; unloaded suitcases full of crayons, books, balls and barrettes to the children at St. Louis Girls Home; cheered on the seamstresses at Nativity Village II in Prolonge; visited Nativity Fishing Village in Petit Anse; dedicated the daCruz Library and community center in Madras; and played with children at Little Children of Jesus Home for the handicapped, a project of Food For The Poor.
Additional travelers included Theresa Danner (Burke, Va.), Hollis Hunter Jr. (Burke, Va.), Vincent Lam (South Riding, Va.), Tu Le (Springfield, Va.), James Lenertz (Springfield, Va.), Cynthia Mausolf (Springfield, Va.), Lesley Pardew (Castle Rock, Colo.), Carleen Payne (Sarasota, Fla.), Beverly Powell (Springfield, Va.), and Dennis Staszak (Fairfax, Va.).
Those interested in starting an Operation Starfish program at their parish, school, or organization can visit www.FoodForThePoor.org/operationstarfish or call 877-654-2960 ext. 6641.
Food For The Poor, the largest international relief and development organization in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 96 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor.
For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.
Jennifer Leigh Oates
Food For The Poor
954-427-2222 x 6054