Students Travel to Jamaica With a Purpose

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (April 26, 2010) – Students and faculty from St. Joseph Academy Catholic High School in Jacksonville, Fla., traveled to Jamaica last month on a house building trip with the international relief and development organization Food For The Poor.  

“Our mission is not for the people overseas—our mission is for the people in America,” said Robin Mahfood, CEO/President of Food For The Poor. “Our real mission is to turn the face of the church in America to the face of the church in the Third World. Our job is to try to help one person, one family at a time get out of poverty, and that’s what we are doing. In 2009, we built 6,371 housing units that we gave to the poor. These are families that now have a home.”


During the mission group’s orientation, they heard about the harsh realities of life in developing countries and firsthand accounts from the South Florida-based charity’s CEO/President and Executive Director.

“We heard how female children [in developing countries] often have to carry heavy water buckets on their heads for miles over rocky ground just to get water to drink, cook and clean with,” said St. Joseph Academy Campus Minister, Deacon Bryan Ott, in a letter he mailed to participants’ parents. “We saw a picture of a woman holding her eleventh child after the first ten had died of starvation. Perhaps the most powerful story was a testimony by a Food For The Poor mission trip leader [Leann Chong] who survived for 17 hours trapped under a collapsed building after the earthquake in Haiti. She testified that it was her faith in God that kept her going and ultimately led rescue workers to her even though she was invisible to them and unable to make much more than a grunt.”

There is no substitution for the firsthand experience of traveling on a mission trip. The experience required group members to use all of their senses – sight, touch, smell, taste, hearing – and their hearts. Group members fed, held, and gave “wheelchair races” to disabled orphans and children with AIDS; played soccer at a boys orphanage in Kingston; and built a home in a day.


“Seeing how they live touched my heart in a different way,” said Carolyn Jackson, a student at St. Joseph Academy. “Even though they have so little, they appreciated what they had and gave God their all. I felt truly blessed to meet the people that I did, and they taught me to have faith and trust in the Lord, to be less self-absorbed in my own life and to appreciate all the wonderful things God has given me.”

“At a homeless shelter [in Jamaica], the students didn’t just serve a meal, they sat down and talked, sang, and even shared hugs with the homeless,” said Deacon Ott. “In a situation that would have intimidated most adults, the students jumped right in and gave a powerful affirmation of the dignity of those they served, sending the message that someone cares and wants to hear what they have to say.” 

“I had no idea anything was this bad,” said Shelby Jones, a student at St. Joseph Academy. “It was definitely an eye-opening experience, and I have learned so much. I learned that a simple smile, or the touch of someone’s hand can make a person’s day.”

An important part of mission trips is the daily group reflection time, which provides students the opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings and life-changing experiences.

“Many tears were shed as the students opened their hearts to those in need, and really wrestled with how difficult some people have it in life,” said Deacon Ott. “Students recognized how blessed they are in life. The trip provided many lessons in love, and returning the love given so freely by the Jamaican children.”

You can learn more about Food For The Poor’s 2010 mission trips by calling 1-800-427-9104 ext. 6216 or by e-mailing You can also involve your school in Food For The Poor’s mission by calling 1-877-654-2960, ext. 6988 or e-mailing

Food For The Poor, the largest international relief and development organization in the nation, does much more than feed millions of hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian agency provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 96 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor. For more information, please visit

Jennifer Leigh Oates
Public Relations
954.427.2222, ext. 6054