At Dominican Feed the Children, where three times a week children between 6 months and 12 years old receive a meal, the children are no different than home. Some are shy and peak at us from behind doors or their mother's skirts, and others boldly join us, grasping our hands and smiling as if they won a prize. Perhaps most notable to our Ontario sensibilities is that no one seems to wonder where their children are; it baffles us that a toddler joined us and no one has come to find him.
Inside the centre, lunch is cooking. Ontario Christian Gleaners donates dehydrated vegetables and the cook turns that into stew, served over rice. There are massive pots on the old stove, simmering away as 250 children wait to be fed, a staggering thought. That's 8 or 9 classrooms full of children, if you can imagine, only getting three decent meals a week. That's their normal; our kids receive 21 meals a week, 7 times the number of meals they do. When lunch is ready, the children sit at painted picnic tables in a bright hall. The food is served in brightly coloured bowls with clean water in matching cups. It is a scene familiar to those who attended summer camp - laughing, playing, silly smiles, and posing for photos. Kids slyly trade parts of meals they don't like and try to get more of what they do. The hall feels lively and fun, no trace of the desperation that lies underneath - our sober understanding that this is not enough.
On exit, each child gets a vitamin. They don't understand micronutrition and try to procure more than one, as a treat. There is laughing and cajoling as they exit the hall, into the hot sun and onto the dry earth. The feeding centre feeds children on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday - for some, they may not get another nutritious meal for three days.
Bill and Donna, who run the centre, also provide other programs that encourage proper nutrition in the community. Their work strongly contrasts with our culture of over-consumption. In Canada, food is mass produced and very few people wonder where their next meal will come from and when it may arrive. In this small village, meals being crafted from donations and feeding so many remind us of Jesus' miracles. While I worry about the four days a week these kids are not being fed and wonder how those over 12 are managing, I am happy to have been witness to the work being done. It is the contrast that tattoos itself on my spirit - so much, so little, so much need, so much hope.
N.B. You can see pictures from the trip on the bulletin board in the main foyer at church