Since starting pre-school, Lucy has been on the birthday party circuit. She's been to all sorts of parties--gym parties, tea parties, parties with clowns, her own fairy party of course--and they've all been great. Birthday parties in America is a whole other topic that I won't get into here, at least not today. But yesterday's was unique and wonderful.
About 40 of us met at an organization called Feed My Starving Children. There were two other groups there that day as well, one from a Presbyterian church and then another youth mission group, so there might have been 85 of us all together. We first met in a room where a worker from the organization showed us a video. Any time you talk about children starving to death, you know that's going to be compelling. But you really could not fail to be moved by this.
One story that really stuck out to me was that of a missionary walking down the road and hearing a tiny cry from an outhouse. A woman had apparently given birth over a toilet and left the baby in there to die. The missionary tied a rope around his waist and went all the way down to retrieve the baby from the sewage. They showed a picture of the baby, and he was pretty much the definition of bones covered over with skin. He was brought to the orphanage, where the workers there named him Moses. Now he's about three years old, thriving on food and love, and is about the cutest little chocolate drop you've ever seen. The rest of the video showed the difference even a few weeks of healthy food can make in the life of a child. The great thing about this particular organization is that 95% of the money goes into the food. It goes straight to missionaries and orphanages--no politicians involved.
After the video, the woman described the food we would be packing for children just like Moses. It's a mixture of chicken-flavored powder, dried vegetables, soy, and rice with all necessary vitamins added. We all herded in, washed our hands, put on our hairnets, and began to work together.
We set up assembly lines around the tables, someone cranked up the 80s music (which I am completely convinced motivates everyone to work faster AND happier), and got going. It was so fantastic to see a room full of people, especially little kids, working together to bag up this food. Lucy and three other little girls at our table manned all the ingredients while one mom supervised them, one mom held the bags, I weighed them, and another mom sealed them. Every time a group filled a box with food, they would yell out a chosen phrase or word, and FMSC workers would take the box to the warehouse. One group yelled out "Donation!" every time, but ours yelled out "Happy Birthday, Maddie!" each time.
After about an hour and a half, we cleaned up and all went into the warehouse where all our boxes were stacked on a pallet. Each person laid their hand somewhere on the boxes and we prayed over the food. Then we went back into the "debriefing" room and found out our stats. In under two hours, we had packed over 23,000 packages of food, each of which will feed a child for a day. So with the food we packed, 60+ kids will have food for one year! Then we got to taste a sample of the food we packed. I was surprised: it was very good; it tasted kind of like Rice-a-roni.
One of the coolest things for me was that Maddie's mom (my friend Alysa) did not pick this option out instead of the usual kid party just because she's a groovy mission chick from Moody (though of course she is!) Maddie herself wanted to do this. Alysa and Maddie have volunteered at FMSC before, and Maddie, who turned 6 yesterday, was so moved by the fact that 18,000 children die each and every day because they don't have enough food to eat that she wanted to do something. She's been thinking of ways to earn money and wanted to have her birthday party there. And in lieu of presents, we each made a donation.
My own Lucy left a different person as well. Midway through she told me, "I LOVE Feed My Starving Children, Mom!" She was so appalled when she found out that the children would sometimes eat dirt and rocks because they were so hungry. That was the one thing from the day that jumped out at her. She kept saying, "They eat the dirt? On the ground?" She spent the entire ride home, detailing all the things that we could send kids around the world so they wouldn't be hungry anymore.
Don't get me wrong--I love fun birthday parties for kids, and I think everyone should get the chance to play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and hit a pinata or whatever. But here in the land of we-have-to-do-everything-completely-over-the-top-and-compete-with-each-other-even-in-our-children's-birthday-celebrations, yesterday was an awesome experience. Because Maddie's heart was touched by the plight of children without food, my own little girl has caught the missions fever as well.
So, happy birthday, Maddie!