Louisville’s Southwest Church Helps Children in Guatemala and Haiti

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (May 4, 2016)  Many members of Southwest Church live in poverty with immense needs and seemingly little to give. Yet when challenged to help Food For The Poor bring relief to families with struggles much bigger than theirs, they raised enough money to help more than 100 children.

It all started when Pastor Tim Hartlage asked his congregation to provide food for a year and water for life for 25 children in Guatemala. They were given two weeks to raise the funds and reach the goal. But before they could even finish three hymns at the start of service, they had pledged to help twice as many children.

The goal was expanded and within a month, members pledged to help more than 100 children – 50 in Guatemala and 50 in Haiti. In March, the ministry wrote a check for $5,000 to Food For The Poor. Even on the day that the check was presented, children from the congregation were still giving to the cause.

Hartlage, who has traveled extensively with Food For The Poor staff on their radio media trips to Haiti and Guatemala over the past eight years, leads the church, located in an economically depressed area near Louisville, Ky., known as Lake Dreamland.

"I couldn't fight the tears back," said Hartlage. "It was the most joy I've experienced in the 4 1/2 years I've been pastor. I knew the sacrifice, but they didn't care. They wanted to help. You couldn't stop God from tugging at their hearts."

The donation didn't come easy. Many in the Lake Dreamland community struggle to pay the electric bill each month. Others are disabled or receive some form of government assistance. Some have been in jail or are battling addictions.

But they didn't let those obstacles stand in the way. They sold cans to raise the money. Some offered to clean car windshields as drivers were stopped at traffic lights. A 5-year-old boy went door-to-door and collected $50.

Amy Morrow and her husband prayed and pledged money that they would normally use for their own groceries. Morrow has not worked since last July because of health issues so money is very tight. "But we keep faith that God will make a way," Morrow said.

Conni Strange and her husband were moved to give to Food For The Poor after listening to Hartlage's stories of extreme poverty and suffering in Haiti and Guatemala.

"As a mom of three kids, I have never had to worry about where I would get my girls' food or clean water," said Strange. "Our family is so blessed. I knew it was the least I could do to give monetarily."

Cindy Goodin cares for her mentally challenged sister, three of her grandchildren and her daughter who has been battling cancer for three years. She recalls one time when even her own children didn't have enough food to eat. Yet they still used Christmas and birthday money they had saved to help a child in Guatemala.

"Growing up, we didn't have a lot, but our mom and dad worked hard to have what we needed and then some. They were people that would give you anything they had, if they thought you needed it," Goodin said. "There was always room for one more."

In Haiti, two-thirds of children suffer from malnutrition and one out of 14 children die before reaching their fifth birthday. In Guatemala, nearly half of all children under the age of 5 are chronically malnourished. In both countries, the poorest of the poor are trying to survive on less than $2 per day. Food is scarce or unaffordable for these poor families, and children are dying because they have little or nothing to eat.

Robin Mahfood, President/CEO of Food For The Poor, praised Southwest Church for their contribution and thanked its members for their spirit of giving.

"It's a tremendous thing they have done," he said. "Their generosity is a blessing to young kids who are struggling to survive."

Before becoming a full-time pastor, Hartlage was general manager of Louisville Christian radio station WFIA, where he was first introduced to Food For The Poor. His leadership at the station resulted in homes being built in Haiti, sandals and shoes delivered to children, and food and water provided to the poor in Haiti and Guatemala.

In 2009, Hartlage traveled to Haiti for the first time with Food For The Poor and was overwhelmed to learn Haiti's destitute children eat "mud cookies" to help quell their hunger pains. During a radio media trip to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, Hartlage said God showed him "the great concern."

"I've gone out and spoken to a lot of churches. This is a church of 60 people. I've spoken to churches with 600 people in well-to-do areas and not collected $5,000," Hartlage said. "God's word is clear: We are to love and serve the poor and oppressed."

Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry 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 95 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.

Michael Turnbell

Public Relations
954-427-2222 x 6054