International Travel: Impressions

In our social-media, digitally-obsessed world, there’s no lack of opportunity of getting seen or heard. Countless times throughout the day we can post about every aspect of our lives and get a response. But not everyone has this opportunity.

As a Producer, Writer, and Photographer for Feed the Children, I’ve had the life-changing opportunity to travel the world and produce programs and videos, as well as photograph our work internationally. Over the years, I’ve interviewed thousands of people that we serve — from many countries, tribes, villages, slums — you name it. Sadly, many of these people are far removed from the conscience of the world. They have no electricity, no iPhones, iPads, computers — in essence, no voice in our modern culture. Yet, despite the enormous hardships and suffering they endure on a daily basis, they are truly some of the strongest people I’ve ever met.

I’m getting ready once again for a very big trip. I’ll be traveling with two other videographers/photographers to Kenya, Uganda, and the Philippines for the entire month of November – which will be the longest and farthest trip I’ve taken so far in my tenure at Feed the Children.

Tanya M. ROloff Photography
Tanya M. Roloff Photography

But despite the ENORMOUS task of preparing to be gone that long, I am driven to push through all the details — packing, dangers, exhaustion, thousands of miles of travel, and obstacles — for two main reasons. The first reason is to continue to bring help and hope to the many children and families who do not have access to food and life’s essentials. This is the mission of Feed the Children, and the heart of God as well, and is what drives me into the oftentimes dangerous places we go to get the stories that help us continue to raise awareness and support for the work Feed the Children does.

And the second reason is to give these amazing children and people a voice. I was doing a story in El Salvador a few years back and one of our security guards who accompanied us told me at the end of our trip that it was a great thing we were doing by interviewing and talking to the families. He sort of got emotional and said, “Were it not for us getting their story, they might die having never been known.”

“Die having never been known.” Those words are permanently marked on my heart. I’ll never forget them. This, to me, is one of the biggest rewards of my work — to give these resilient, beautiful, talented, incredible people a voice and a platform to share their struggles, hopes, dreams, pains, fears … a platform so many of us have at our fingertips, yet take for granted. Truth be told, they’re always the ones that help me more than I could ever imagine by allowing me to tell their stories. And despite all the jet-lag, sickness, and every other challenge we face, it’s worth it all in the end! I take a piece of them with me everywhere I go. They’ve left an indelible impression on my heart and I can’t wait for what lies ahead.

Historic amounts of rain and flooding in South Carolina

( Image courtesy of South Carolina Emergency Division )

Hurricane Joaquin was expected to make landfall Monday, October 5, 2015. The category 3 storm was erratic and strengthening as it headed toward the Bahamas. After this extremely dangerous storm left Rum Cay and San Salvador, it veered east leaving the Bahamas in distress. With 120 mph winds, its hurricane force extended outward for 35 miles producing heavy rain and flooding in the North East.

The heaviest rainfall totals in SC were 26.88 inches. This multi-day event caused severe flash flooding along with major river flooding at several locations. Moderate to major flooding will persist across the central and eastern portions of the state. Flooding is expected to continue along coastal areas as slow water recession will likely follow.

* At its peak, over 25,000 customers were reported without power

* Statewide over 270 roads are closed along with 140 bridges.

* Over 900 SC residents have been evacuated (200 in Columbia)

* 17 confirmed storm related fatalities (with the media reporting 19)

* 18 schools systems and colleges are reported closed

* 24 shelters open with over 600 occupants.

Feed the Children is responding to this event. We are currently allocating supplies to one of our community partners with operations based in Columbia, Operation Compassion. We also are supporting House of Destiny, another longtime partner in South Carolina. We are filling orders to stand ready to support the area with more supplies as the need continues to unfold.

More aid efforts are underway. Our partners, Convoy of Hope, loaded over 300 of our Feed the Children disaster relief boxes on their truck headed to South Carolina. This was product they had remaining from the response to flooding here in Oklahoma and Texas earlier this year. Plans are still being developed to support the area through FTC Transportation but we want to make sure these shipments go to the areas that need it most. We also must ensure we send the right product to the right area, to the right people at the right time. With flood waters still rising and new areas being impacted, our timing on sending trucks must coincide with water level decline and need in the community.

Feed the Children is an organization in which communities rely on during their most difficult times. Through hundreds of shipments to our international offices and partner agencies, Feed the Children has been able to provide assistance to the areas hit hardest by past disasters. By partnering with Feed the Children and making financial contributions, one can be assured together we are making a difference. Help us by keeping a “disaster” from a becoming a “total disaster” to a family or individual in need.

To receive time-sensitive updates on potential disaster relief find us on our various social media platforms or text Disaster to 51555.

John Ricketts is the Director of Domestic Programming and Disaster Services at Feed the Children.

When Grandparents Become Caregivers

Editor’s Note: The following article was originally posted on the IF:Gathering website. We are thankful for the partnership with IF:Gathering, which will be highlighting the work of Feed the Children on their blog over the next several months.

Many folks have specific images in their minds of what it will be like when they become grandparents. Rocking babies on their knee. Thanksgiving and Christmas with the entire family around the table. Kids visiting in the summer for “grandparent camp.” Sometimes grandparents will admit, “It’s all of the fun of parenting without the stress. I get to give them back to their parents!”But sometimes, tough circumstances change that vision of what grandparenting is like.

Some grandparents end up becoming caregivers for their grandchildren. After raising their own children, they now find themselves going through it all over again. Ada is one of those grandparents. She and her husband watched with increasing alarm as their grown kids, with three children of their own, got into some trouble—trouble that negatively impacted the children. Eventually, the grandparents were awarded custody of the three little ones, bringing them into their Tennessee home.

Soon after, Ada’s husband died.

It’s been three years now, and Ada has sole custody of eight-year-old Benjamin, four-year-old Nathaniel, and three-year-old Raelyn. Ada still works part-time, and that income helps pay the bills and put food on the table. But it’s often not enough.

Ada does her best to cobble together resources for the children—help from the church, food from a food pantry—but it’s a constant source of stress. “It breaks your heart sometimes,” Ada says. “It worries you, being afraid they won’t have enough. I’d like to get to where I wouldn’t have to worry about that. Those little eyes, when they look at you… you want to give them what they want.”Ada also gets by with food stamps—$343 a month. It helps, but with three growing children, it’s not much. Sometimes that money lasts all month, sometimes not.

“It hurts,” she says. Rent takes a large chunk out of her monthly paycheck, along with other bills. She’s careful to make the life insurance payments; as guardian to these kids—and not getting any younger—she has to be thinking about their long-term future.This time of year is especially tough on Ada. With the kids out of school, she has to pay for child care just so she can work. And her grocery receipts go up too—the kids receive free breakfasts and lunches during the school year, but when there’s no school, there’s no breakfast or lunch.

More and more community organizations and congregations are becoming summer feeding sites, helping bridge the gap after the school year ends. Feed the Children has been on the forefront of this movement in Oklahoma and soon to be around the country. But Ada’s little ones don’t have access to such a site. Their family needs more organizations and churches to step up and do what they can during these critical summer months.

Last month we shared Crystal’s story and called all of us pray for compassionate hearts. This month we challenge you to “pray with your eyes open.” When we think of families, we often think immediately of a father, mother and children. But that’s not always the reality. Families like Ada’s are all around us. Let’s all be on the lookout for non-traditional families like Ada’s, and consider what their struggles might be, and how we might be moved to respond.

H.E.L.P. Comes to West Virginia

August is a month in which we focus on back-to-school readiness–making sure kids have what the need to learn, grow and have success in school. Education is one of the four pillars of Feed the Children’s work, and we know kids can’t learn well if they don’t have their basic needs met. That’s why we take a multi-layered approach, providing not just food, but also school supplies and other essentials. We work closely with local organizations to make sure folks are part of a long-term effort to help them get on their feet and out of poverty for good.

Today we share a little more about our Homeless Education and Literacy Program, which provides backpacks and other vital supplies for children who are homeless. Read more about H.E.L.P. at this link.

Homelessness doesn’t just affect the big cities—it’s a problem that plagues small-town America as well. We partnered recently with a school district in West Virginia that has some 156 homeless children in 9 schools.

7-2015 CDR 3063 New HELP Backpack Photos -29-We provided a backpack and supplies for each of these young people, and staff at the schools let us know what a difference they made. On a survey evaluating the program, staff reported increases in attendance and self-esteem, and said the backpack program helped improve communication between school staff and the families.

The staff passed along their profound gratitude for the gifts H.E.L.P. provided: “The items provided in the backpacks are things that families on this level of income would never dream of being able to provide. Without your help in distributing these supplies, these children would simply go without.

Another staff member reported this: “One child couldn’t believe that she was going to have a backpack of her very own. This little girl also attends my church, and she brought the backpack to church with her the following week! She and her mother told me afterward how much they appreciated the gift. She also told me she sleeps with her backpack! Something that most of us take for granted can mean so much in the life of a child.”

During the month of August we’re inviting people to join us in providing hope for those without life’s essentials. Will you sponsor a backpack full of supplies (and a few goodies) so that a child is ready for school? It just takes a few moments. Here’s how.

H.E.L.P. for the Homeless

Summer is winding down, and children across the country are getting ready for another school year. For lots of kids, that means a new outfit for the first day, fresh unsharpened pencils and a perfect box of crayons, or a new backpack emblazoned with the latest cartoon character or superhero.

But for one population, back-to-school time can be a time of anxiety and stress for the whole family: the population of children in the United States who are homeless. Each year, 1.6 million American children go to sleep without a home of their own—and sadly, that number is rising.

Succeeding in school as a homeless child is tough. Algebra, anatomy and Animal Farm can be challenging enough without the stress of living on the street, jumping from shelter to shelter, or wondering whether your parents will be able find a job or provide for your basic needs. Unfortunately, these kids are three times more likely to drop out of school than kids with homes. Such a tragedy only feeds the cycle of illiteracy, poverty, and homelessness when these kids become parents themselves.

That’s why it’s imperative that we do everything we can to keep these kids in school. Education is the key to breaking the cycle and ensuring a better life. 

In fact, we know that if children who are homeless can remain in school, they perform as well as their peers over time. These kids will prove themselves academically and socially if given the chance. And their families want to work and contribute positively to society too.

But they need help. They need H.E.L.P.: Feed the Children’s Homeless Education & Literacy Program (H.E.L.P.).

H.E.L.P. is one of the few programs of its kind in the nation. Since its inception in 2006, the program has focused on providing children who are homeless with backpacks and basic supplies they need in order to be successful in school.

7-2015 CDR 3063 New HELP Backpack Photos -36-We stuff these backpacks with some of life’s essentials as well as a bit of fun: school supplies, ready-to-eat food, hygiene items, and of course, books. We work with homeless liaisons and schools across the country who know the face of homelessness and can help us connect and respond. These local partners deliver the backpacks to the students who need them most. They make this delivery privately to help preserve the dignity of these young people.

The homeless liaisons who hand out the backpacks tell us that children treasure these gifts. In some cases, the backpack is the only thing these kids own. The backpacks aren’t just a leg up on the school year—they’re a tangible expression of hope.

Since the beginning of H.E.L.P. almost ten years ago, we’ve distributed more than 700,000 H.E.L.P. backpacks. In 2013 alone, Feed the Children provided 65,000 backpacks to kids without homes.

Can we deliver even more in 2015? You can help by sponsoring one or more backpacks from our catalog. Click here–it’s fast and easy.

Click a “Like,” Help a Child

Today we bring you a guest post from our friends at Solar Shield, and an easy opportunity to help kids across the U.S.! Read on…

The U.S. is a wealthy and plentiful country, but nearly 16 million American children wouldn’t know it. These kids live without many of life’s essentials, including food.  And it’s not just poor children who are going hungry. There are many families who live paycheck to paycheck or barely above poverty, to whom it only takes a hospital bill, an unexpected home repair or an interruption in utilities service due to late payment to force them to choose between two necessities. Food often loses.

Feed the Children’s vision is to create a world where no child goes to bed hungry, and they are committed to providing hope and resources for those without life’s essentials. This is easier said than done.  It takes many who are willing to pool their resources and expertise to work together for change.

Over the years, Feed the Children has recognized that the need goes beyond food. Many families also can’t buy other non-food essentials like clothing, soap, detergent, medicines, bedding and other items. This is why Feed the Children distributes essentials along with food, because they know that something as basic as a new toothbrush goes a long way toward keeping a child healthy and happy.

Solar Shield, the original and leading brand of fits overs and clip-on sunglasses, recognizes the importance of helping kids to be healthy and happy kids, without the worry of food or other necessities. As a sunglass company, Solar Shield’s vision is for kids to be able to play outdoors without damaging their eyes and to enable children to grow up with good eye-health habits. Kids get three times the annual sun exposure that adults do, and their young eyes are especially susceptible to UV-related harm. Unlike the mature lens of an adult eye, a child’s ocular lens cannot successfully filter out UV rays and more radiation reaches their retinas. Fortunately, the solution for protecting children’s eyes from UV exposure and damage is an easy one. They can wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection every day.

In an effort to make a difference, Solar Shield has partnered with Feed the Children through the “Like Us to Share a Pair” campaign. For every ‘like’ Solar Shield receives on Facebook during the campaign, they will donate a pair of sunglasses or reading glasses to Feed the Children to include with food donations.

The need is real and urgent. Donate to Feed the Children and “Like” the Solar Shield Facebook page and make a difference in children’s lives.

Child Hunger in America: Aiyden’s Story

“Sometimes I get afraid because there’s nothing in the house to eat.”

That’s what 7-year-old Aiyden told me (names have been changed to protect the privacy of those we serve).

He also said, “When we don’t have food we’ll die and we can’t, we’ll be in the grave.”

Very serious words for one so young. The harsh reality of this family’s situation is stealing Aiyden’s childhood. He knows his mom used to have a good job, but was laid off. He knows she’s trying to find another one, but hasn’t yet.

“When Mommy’s not working, she don’t have a lot of money,” he says. “She told us she’s not able to buy a lot of food.”

“I run out of food lots of times,” says Aiyden’s mom, Shemika. “My children have went to bed hungry before.”

Shemika worries constantly about losing the car, the house — even about losing her boys because she struggles to provide for them.

family

Aiyden has found a way to help fill his empty, aching stomach:

“Sometimes when we run out of food he saves food from school and then he brings it home and he put it under his pillow so whenever we don’t eat at night, he eats it,” says big brother Andre, age 8.

But now the boys are out of school.

“The hardest thing about it is in the summertime…you have to think about having food for them for breakfast, for lunch, then dinnertime,” Shemika says.

Help a child like Aiyden

Children across America are going to bed hungry. Like Aiyden, the summer months are the hardest months — the hungry months — for millions of boys and girls. These children miss out on the free lunches and breakfasts at school.

Your gift today can provide a box of food and a box of essentials for a family in need here in our country. It’s just $38 for both boxes!

Please help today. Give a child like Aiyden a reason to smile.

Ah'Darian

Paul and Zach: A Story of Resilience

In parts of rural Kentucky, the poverty rate is 50% higher than the national average. Here, the average salary for a 50-year-old man is just $12,000 a year. That’s not much, but for people who can’t find a job, that’s a fortune.

One of these folks is Paul – a burly man who seems like a modern day Grizzly Adams. Paul lives way outside of town with his son Zach. In most parts of our country, this house would be condemned. But this crumbling old house is home for this father and son team.

Here, surrounded by lush beauty, Paul is struggling to raise 8-year old Zach alone. He has no job, no steady source of income.  He lives off the land—and by earning money doing whatever he can.

Zach and His Father Paul
Zach and His Father Paul

Paul didn’t realize he even had a son until six years ago when he got a tip that an old girlfriend had a child who looked just like him.  The old girlfriend was a drug addict who was incapable of raising a child.

 

He immediately went to work to find the child who had been placed in foster care. After a full year of court hearings and parenting classes, he received full custody of this handsome boy who is a mix of white, black and Native American.

Paul was living in Ohio at the time he received custody of Zach, with a steady job as a bouncer at a club.  But the crime-ridden neighborhood was no place to raise a child, so he moved back to Kentucky to be in the land he loved, the land of his childhood.

He could never have dreamed that life could be this hard. The only house they can afford is 100 years old. They get their water from a water well that often runs dry. Indoor plumbing is a recent addition – they used an outhouse until a few months ago. An old wash tub is in the bathroom for washing the clothes. An old wood stove will keep the house warm in the winter—there is no indoor heating—but the shelves are lined with books and the house is fairly neat and organized.

The house is surrounded by 192 acres of corn fields and tobacco fields, all belonging to the landlord. Paul’s rent is $200 a month – a fee he works off by working the land.

Paul doesn’t feel sorry for himself and is more than happy to work hard. He’ll do just about anything to make money, from putting up hay to collecting recyclables. And he’s proud to say he’s lost 100 pounds doing hard labor over the past year or two. Still, Paul doesn’t always make enough to pay the rent… or the utilities… or buy food or gas. Thankfully he has a patient landlord who understands how tough times are.

These last few months have been especially hard. There’s been no money to buy food at the market, so Paul and Zach lived off the vegetables from the garden and the fruit on the trees. There was no money for meat, though they are able to hunt for food with Paul’s 50c shotgun. And he’s proud of his boy, who got his first squirrel and possum this summer – with a bow and arrow. But now the bow string is broken—and there’s no money to fix it.

TRIP1114  3When we ask Zach what it feels like when he is hungry, he lowers his eyes. “It makes me feel sad when I’m hungry….when I’m hungry, I get a little dizzy, like I am right now. I wish there was more food in the refrigerator. I wish there was ham or chicken….sometimes it gets really low.”

But Zach is an optimistic boy with a heart full of love for his dad. “We have a really good bond. That’s pretty much why we help each other. He loves me and I love him.”

It was a neighbor, Leroy, who first told us about this father-son family. He sees Zach get off the bus and knows how hungry he is every day.  Although Leroy is feeding eight people—including four grandchildren—Leroy welcomes Zach in and feeds him almost every day.

“That boy back in the holler,” Leroy tells us,  “I give him groceries because he don’t have nothing. He gets off the school bus and I boil hotdogs. I ask him, ‘You hungry honey, you want some hotdogs?’ And he says,‘Hotdogs are my favorite.’ I give him food because I know he don’t have nothing back there to eat.” Zach calls old Leroy his Pappaw.

There may be a shortage of food and money in this Kentucky community, but there’s no shortage of love and compassion.

In a country where many 8-year-old boys are demanding the latest tech toys and video games, this bright, articulate boy with so little has one big wish: “If I had more food, I’d feel great.  I’d be happy.  I’d have all the food I need.  All I need is more food.”

There are so many children like Zach in America—way too many. Can you help their wishes come true? On this Father’s Day, stand with Zach’s father Paul—and the parents all across the country who just want their kids to have the opportunity to be kids.

When the Waters Rise… Feed the Children Responds

At Feed the Children, we work day in and day out to help create a world in which no child is hungry. But when disaster strikes, we also mobilize quickly to provide immediate aid.

Recent severe storms across the southern regions of the U.S. have caused widespread flash floods extending nearly 800 miles from southern Texas to central Missouri. According to the National Weather Service in Fort Worth Texas, more than 35 trillion gallons of water fell in May over the Texas alone—enough to cover the Lone Star State with eight inches of water. This flooding has devastated communities, destroyed homes, and taken the lives of some 24 people.

Because we work in partnership with local organizations, we are ideally positioned to provide aid when disaster strikes. Following last week’s floods, Feed the Children has allocated supplies through our existing partner network and in collaboration with National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster. Supplies were delivered to the Wimberley area in the Texas Hill Country, including clean-up kits, personal care items, Rubbermaid products, and beverages.

We have allocated two truckloads of supplies to be delivered within the next day or so, and we’re making plans for more. Can you help? Please visit our donations page and help us provide relief and hope in this vital effort.

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Photo By: Alberto Martinez/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Hope Arrives in a Semi Truck

At Feed the Children, we believe we can create a world in which no child goes to bed hungry. It takes all of us working together: Feed the Children staff, local community organizations, volunteers, donors, state and federal governments, corporate partners… and truck drivers.

Drivers are the backbone of our community events around the country. They transport food and needed supplies to people who need them, when they need them. Thanks to their dedication and commitment, we’re able to serve more than ten million hungry people each year.

It’s the American driver on our nation’s highways and backroads who sees better than anyone that behind every hill, and around every turn, families can be found who are still struggling with poverty and hunger.

That’s why the drivers of FTC Transportation, banner carriers of Feed the Children, proudly deliver the food and supplies that struggling American families so desperately need.

A problem as complex as hunger needs complex solutions. Feed the Children is committed to finding these solutions, with everyone at the table. But we also believe in meeting immediate needs—for food, for supplies, and for hope. Our fleet of drivers helps make this happen.

We invite you to check out our new video that heralds these unsung heroes! Share it with a friend.