Solon sets the table for Mary’s Meals


Food program founder brings his book tour to community

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Patty Erusha of St. Mary Parish in Solon describes humanitarian Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow as a “male Mother Teresa” for his extraordinary efforts to feed hungry children in the world’s poorest countries in their place of education.

Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder and CEO of Mary’s Meals is pictured with children in Africa. He will be in Solon May 29.

MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of Mary’s Meals and recipient of Time magazine’s 2015 Top 100 Most Influential People in the World, will visit the Solon parish May 29 for a book signing and talk. Solon is one of just three places in Iowa he will visit on a U.S. tour to launch his new book “The Shed that Fed a Million Children: The Extraordinary Story of Mary’s Meals.” He’ll also visit Simpson College in Indianola and St. Francis Parish in West Des Moines on May 30. His visit to Solon is a result of a community-wide effort called “Corridor Cares of Solon, which seeks to raise funds for Mary’s Meals for children attending Chisenjere School in Malawi, Africa.


“The whole town of Solon is involved,” Erusha, a Mary’s Meals volunteer, said of the fundraising festivities planned around the 6:30 p.m. book signing and 7:30 p.m. talk. Books will be available for purchase for $21.99. All royalties from the book’s sales will go directly to Mary’s Meals. A 5K run and one-mile run/walk also begin at 6:30 p.m. Eight-year-old Olivia Bonnema, whose family belongs to the Solon parish, inspired the run/walk after watching the documentary “Child 31” about Mary’s Meals.

“It left an impression on her,” Olivia’s mom, Theresa Bonnema, said. “It’s a good documentary to watch with your kids.” Olivia said she learned about children who do not have the things she takes for granted such as parents, food and a comfortable home. During Lent she and her family, which includes her dad, Adam, and two younger siblings, donated money to Mary’s Meals. Olivia wanted to do more, so the family organized a 5K run and 1-mile run/walk. “We knew we needed to cast a wider net, that’s where the idea for the run came from,” Theresa said. “We planned it as something that people of all abilities could do. We wanted all families to be involved.” The event’s theme is “Be a Hunger Hero.” Kids are invited to dress up as their favorite super hero for the event. The entry fee is whatever individuals can afford, but the Bonnemas point out that it costs just $19.50 to feed one child one meal daily for a year with Mary’s Meals. “You spend $19.50 for going out for one meal at a restaurant. For the money you spent on one meal you can feed one kid for one year,” Olivia said. The girls’ track team at Solon High School donated $300 toward the effort, which will feed about 15 children for a year, Theresa said.

Mary’s Meals feeds 1 million children a day in the poorest countries in the world and operates on what its supporters say is a simple but effective premise. A child who attends a place of education on a regular basis receives a nutritious meal there, prepared by local volunteers.

Communities where Mary’s Meals are served commit to providing a kitchen in the school and to enlist volunteers to prepare and serve the meal. As much as possible, the food is locally grown.

“They’re totally involved in it,” Erusha said of Mary’s Meals communities. “They’re feeding their children; they buy the local farmer’s food. It’s a great model. Ninety-three cents of every dollar goes to feeding kids.”

Some Solon residents learned about Mary’s Meals through attending Christ Our Life conferences in Des Moines, where MacFarlane-Barrow spoke. Word spread through the greater community as Ellen Miller, a co-founder of Christ Our Life, and Erusha also gave talks about Mary’s Meals.

As a result, residents of Solon have chosen to sponsor the Chisenjere School in Malawi, which is close in size (about 1,300 students) to the Solon public school system, Erusha said.

Solon residents hope to raise enough money to feed the children in the Malawi school for one year, about $25,000. So far, supporters have raised about $16,000 for Mary’s Meals, she added. “It’s a great cause.”

If you go:

What: Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow’s Solon events in Iowa for “The Shed that Fed a Million Children: The Extraordinary Story of Mary’s Meals.
When: Friday, May 29, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Book signing at 6:30 p.m.; talk at 7:30 p.m.
Where: St. Mary Parish, 1749 Racine Ave. N.E., Solon.
5K Run or 1 Mile Run/Walk, non-competitive, begins at 6:30 p.m. May 29 at St. Mary Church. Same-day registration is 5:30 p.m. Fee: You choose. Checks payable to: Mary’s Meals Mail. For information: call Theresa Bonnema at (319) 499-8930. Post-run food provided by Solon restaurants and GFWC/Iowa Solon Women’s Club
May 30 in Des Moines Diocese: 8:30 a.m.,  Simpson College, Smith Chapel, Indianola; 5:30 p.m., St. Francis of Assisi Church, West Des Moines

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