Malnourished children, exhausted from their daily 10-mile journey to the contaminated stream, would fill their canteens to the brim. Murky and parasite-ridden, the stream flowed as the women and children of this remote African village would fend off alligators, all for diseased water. Each year a child would be lost from an alligator attack.
Then a United States-based charity called Feed The Children helped eliminate their dangerous trek to fetch a glass of water.
“We go into the community and actually supplied them with clean water – just a faucet,” said Kristin Mills, the director of volunteer engagement of Feed the Children’s Bethlehem branch. “At the same time they are giving out food and clean water, they are also giving out de-worming medication, because kids might be getting as much food as they need, but parasites are taking up 30 to 50 percent of those nutrients.”
Feed The Children provides global aid, but the Oklahoma City-based non-profit does the majority of its work domestically. In 2014, Feed The Children circulated more than $266 million in hygiene necessities, medication and school supplies to close to nine million people in the United States.
For Kevin Richardson, the director of volunteer engagement for Feed The Children on a national scale, it wasn’t until he traveled to Nicaragua and talked to a native there that he realized the value of his company’s work. A Nicaraguan whose daughter was raised on Feed the Children’s feeding plans praised Richardson for the impact the organization has had on his family.
“She was the first person in her family to finish high school and graduate, and when I was there she was actually in a university studying to be a doctor,” Richardson said. “Just to hear him share about the impact that that’s had on his community, on his family, was one of the most transformative experiences I’ve had working with Feed The Children.”
One of Feed The Children’s five domestic distribution centers has been stationed on the outskirts of an old Pennsylvania steel town. Just 15 miles from Lehigh’s campus in Bethlehem, the center serves the families of the state’s most impoverished communities, but the entire Northeast as well.
Mills is tasked with recruiting volunteers to help assemble packages and boxes. Within those pallets are the canned goods, non-perishable food items and other essential products. They are then shipped off to communities across the East Coast in desperate need for what’s inside.
“Every truck gets 10 pallets of food, 10 pallets of hygiene, four pallets of Avon and then there are still two slots left. So you get 400 boxes of each type,” Mills said. “Then you have enough boxes for 400 families. Every family would get one box each.”
In 2014, Feed The Children circulated over $344 million in food and other essentials – improving the lives of 14 million people across the globe. In addition to Feed The Children food and hygiene aid, the non-profit is set to launch a division in Pennsylvania devoted to education where teachers from low-income districts can come in and collect supplies.
“They can come to our teacher store, once its open, and they get products for free, school supplies for every single month,” Mills said. “The goal with that is that education is the way out of poverty. The idea is that if we can get these kids educated, the goal is to break that cycle of poverty and kind of lift them up on their own.”
Last year alone, Feed The Children provided over $5 million worth in educational tools, supplying close to 65,000 backpacks and over 575,000 books to school systems in the United States.
Richardson and Mills attribute Feed The Children’s global success to the organization’s emphasis on collaboration, citing the partnerships they have made with other corporations as a primary factor for the company’s global reach. Perhaps the charity’s most notable partner is L’Oreal, who just named Feed The Children its charity of choice.
“Not only do they donate product to us, but they also give us money to take their product,” Mills said. “So we’re getting gift-in-kind and monetary donations from them, which is wonderful.”
The Bethlehem Distribution Center has been getting involved with Lehigh’s Greek chapters to help with the packing of their boxes. Coordinating through the community service chairman of each participating chapter, Lehigh students have helped immensely in providing the east coast’s poverty-ridden communities with essentials.
“The intent of our office is to partner with organizations in the local community so we can use our influence to immediately better the local communities,” Brennan Stenke said, a student coordinator in Lehigh’s community service office. “We reached out to Feed The Children and tried to develop this partnership with them.”
The help of volunteers, coupled with partnerships established with companies similar to L’Oreal, are the fuel that makes Feed The Children run.
“The reality is hunger and poverty are such big issues that no matter how big the organization is, it can solve it alone,” Richardson said. “We strive to develop partnerships with other organizations, other non-profits, corporations, faith groups, governmental groups to solve this problem. It takes all of this standing together, and our emphasis on that is what makes us unique.”
From coordinating the shipment of food from Bethlehem to Boston, educating children in Africa and purifying water in Nicaragua, Feed The Children is extending their hand to all corners of the globe.