By Celine Klosterman
RIVERSIDE — For 10 years, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow has sought support to feed hungry children through his organization Mary’s Meals.
But rarely has he seen such generosity as Catholics in the Riverside area have shown in response to a 13-year-old’s plea, he told about 125 people Sept. 26 at St. Mary Church. Thanks to the initiative of Allison Ockenfels, a youth from St. Joseph Parish in Wellman, area parishioners have raised more than $21,000 since November 2010 to help build kitchens and feed children in Malawi.
In gratitude to donors, MacFarlane-Barrow accepted Allison’s invitation to speak at St. Mary Parish, which is clustered with St. Joseph Parish and Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond. The Scotsman also visited Indianola and Urbandale over three days to thank communities that have supported Mary’s Meals since he spoke at the Christ Our Life Conference in Des Moines in October 2010.
In Riverside, he shared how watching a TV news report of conflict and suffering in Bosnia sparked his first charitable effort in 1992. Then in his early 20s, he and his brother Fergus solicited donations of food and blankets and delivered them to Bosnia. After the men returned home, donations kept coming, and the brothers formed the charity Scottish International Relief in response.
“We started getting invitations to help in other countries,” MacFarlane-Barrow said. The charity built homes for abandoned children in Romania, set up clinics for refugees returning to Liberia and offered famine relief in Malawi.
An encounter in that African country in 2002 pushed his outreach in a new direction. While visiting a dying, AIDS-stricken mother, he asked her son what he most wanted. “To have enough to eat and to go to school one day,” the child said.
MacFarlane-Barrow heard children in many countries share similar hopes. He responded by forming Mary’s Meals, which is a successor to Scottish International Relief and named after Jesus’ mother. Today, the campaign offers a daily meal to 577,000 children at school in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and eastern Europe.
The promise of a meal draws children to school, and students who feel full can better concentrate on their studies. By promoting education, Mary’s Meals aims to help lift people out of poverty, MacFarlane-Barrow said.
He told of a Malawian graduate who said she wouldn’t have attended school if not for the meals, of an orphan who made sure his 3-year-old brother visited a Mary’s Meals center daily, and of Kenyans who said the meals drew together children from different tribes for the first time.
“Mary’s Meals is lots of little acts of love,” he said. “When you put them together, you create this beautiful sign of God’s mercy.”
He asked people to pray for, donate to and spread the word about the ministry, which he said doesn’t spend money on advertising or marketing.
His witness was inspiring, said Linda Rowland, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City. Serving the poor is at the heart of the Gospel message, she said, citing part of Matthew 25:37 – “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you…?”
“We in the United States have so much,” she said. “We can learn lessons about gratitude from people in Third World countries.”
But what struck Rowland most was Allison’s success in fundraising. “She obviously touched so many people to be able to raise all this money.”
Supporters donated $2,452 the night of MacFarlane-Barrow’s talk, Allison said. She plans to continue fundraising as long as she can.
“We are amazed that she took on such a big project on her own,” said Patty Decker, USA coordinator at Mary’s Meals USA. “It’s a blessing to have her example to inspire adults and even groups who feel reluctant to aim for a kitchen building project. When I share her success, it alleviates their anxieties.”
Support Mary’s Meals
Mary’s Meals says 93 percent of donations it receives go to charity. The ministry also says it can feed a child in Malawi for a year for about $10, thanks to community volunteers and buying food locally.
To donate, send a check payable to Mary’s Meals USA to Allison Ockenfels, 3351 V Ave., Wellman, IA, 52356. You may also visit www.marysmealsusa.org, and type “Malawi Iowa Kitchen” into a field offering donors an opportunity to leave a message for Mary’s Meals.