Davenport students learn how poverty, food program impacts youths worldwide

Anne Marie Amacher
Assumption High School seniors Lauren DiIulio, left, and Olivia Leinart take an item from a basket from Ellen Miller of Mary’s Meals. Miller spoke recently to students at Assumption and All Saints Catholic School, Davenport.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — For just $19.50, a child in the world’s poorest countries can be fed for an entire school year by Mary’s Meals. Students at All Saints Catholic School and Assumption High School learned that fact during recent presentations by Ellen Miller, a volunteer coordinator with Mary’s Meals.

Miller explained to both schools — in separate presentations — that Mary’s Meals is a global movement that sets up school feeding projects in some of the world’s poorest countries where poverty prevents children from gaining an education. Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow of Scotland founded the school feeding project in the 1990s and renamed it Mary’s Meals in 2002. The program now serves 18 countries around the world, primarily in Africa, and feeds 1.4 million children per day, Miller said.

As one of the co-chairs of the biennial Christ Our Life Conference in Des Moines, Miller invited MacFarlane-Barrow to speak in 2010. There, he caught the attention of Miller’s son, Mike, and Father Rich Adam, who now serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport and teaches senior-year religion at Assumption.


Mike Miller was so inspired by the mission of Mary’s Meals and its founder that he moved to Africa. Eight years later he continues to work with the poor there, along with his wife and three children. Ellen Miller has been to Africa eight times. She records videos and takes pictures of students and the communities she visits to help tell their stories. “You can see what they do and how they live,” she said.
As a fundraiser for Mary’s Meals, the Millers designed T-shirts that promote the Mary’s Meals message. To date, 15,000 shirts have been sold.

Fr. Adam said Assumption students have already ordered 20 shirts. “There may be more in the coming days.”
In her talks at All Saints and Assumption this spring, Miller focused on children in Malawi. She showed a video of children learning English as a second language and another one of women making porridge for the school’s students. Mary’s Meals provides funds for the nutritious food. When possible, the food is locally grown and purchased.

As part of her presentations, Miller asked students to choose a rock, cracker or sucker. She explained that the rock represents 46 percent of the world’s people, who live on less than $2.50 a day. If they can afford food, it might be porridge (made of corn, flour and water), dried fish, beans or fresh fruit. “To think you will have food tomorrow is a luxury,” she said. The cracker represented 30 percent of the world’s population, who live on $10 or less a day. “That’s equal to one American pizza.” That wage is not enough to cover housing, utilities (if available) and food. The sucker represented 20 percent of the world’s population, who have enough to eat. This is typically throughout the Americas and Europe, Miller said.

While an estimated $400 billion in food is thrown away each year, “There are 18,000 who die every day of hunger illness,” Miller said. Mary’s Meals gives hope for a better tomorrow,” she continued. “As Americans we believe no one should go hungry. And all kids deserve an education as we know the hope that it brings for tomorrow.”

All Saints Principal Jeanne Von Feldt invited Miller to speak at her school. “The staff and students were really moved and they so wanted to help feed these children in Africa and to help them go to school. It was really eye opening.”

Eighth-grader John Powell said, “We are helping kids that can’t help themselves. The parents there really have to sacrifice to send their kids to school.”

After watching the video, Pauline Thomsen, middle school math interventionist, said, “It was amazing to see how 500 kids could find happiness when they received five soccer balls.”

Assumption senior Audrey Jestel said she found the story of Mary’s Meals “incredibly inspirational.” Feeding over 1.4 million children a day “is absolutely heart-warming and brings me a feeling of hope for humanity.” The presentation also “motivated me to take part in this extraordinary movement in order to help make the world a better place.”

Assumption senior Garrett Hurt found it appalling that an estimated 17,000 people “die each day from hunger and hunger- related illness. I think the fact that they are being fed in school is a great thing. Not only are they getting an education, but they are being fed. It saddens me to see the conditions others live in but inspires me that food, with education, is offered for them.”

Prior to Miller’s visit to All Saints, the students held a dodge ball tournament during Catholic Schools Week and raised $360. They presented a check to Miller for Mary’s Meals. Fr. Adam said his students are talking about what else they might do to support Mary’s Meals.

For more information on Mary’s Meals visit www.marysmealsusa.org.

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