'Heart-opening' Journey to Guatemala: FFP Donors Meet Grateful Families, Children Who Receive MannaPack Meals

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Sept. 20, 2018) In April, they were part of an enthusiastic army of volunteers in Boca Raton who packed 150,000 meals for malnourished children. Almost five months later, this trio of Food For The Poor donors traveled 2,800 miles to Guatemala to witness firsthand how MannaPack rice meals, just like the ones they lovingly packed, are literally saving lives.

"This has been an eye-opening, heart-opening experience," said Eliza Diaz, who accompanied her husband Juan on the two-day trip to Guatemala.

After the excitement of packing the meals with more than 25 of their employees at Food For The Poor's third annual Join The Pack last spring, the co-owners of Bravo Supermarkets wanted to see how their work was making a difference from children's homes to homeless shelters and in the lives of destitute families.

Traveler Rosalie Co said it was important for her to not only see how the MannaPack meals provide nutritious food to families, but to let them know they are loved.

"We don't just pack meals, but fill them with love and compassion to let the lives we touch know they are not forgotten," said Co, Divisional Coordinator for the Sunsational Division of DaVita Kidney Care, a large healthcare organization that provides dialysis to kidney patients throughout the country.

For these compassionate donors and first-time visitors to Guatemala, the journey brought them up close to sadness and despair, followed by moments of hope and jubilation.

They met Alejandra, a 22-year-old woman who shares a tiny home tucked in a steep ravine with her two young children and her mother. Her brother recently died of leukemia on the same day as his diagnosis. Alejandra depends on the MannaPack to feed her family.

The donors played with children at the La Sagrada Familia Feeding Center, where they helped feed a special meal to them including MannaPack. Afterward, the children, filled with energy, were ready to smother the visitors with hugs on the playground.

Food For The Poor took the group to the Santa Familia Feeding Center for the Homeless in Antigua, Guatemala. The center feeds 250 homeless people three times a week with food, including MannaPack. While at the center, the group fed the poor.

At the Stand Up and Walk Children's Home, an Angels Of Hope home for 30 girls in Guatemala City, the donors listened as one of the girls spoke of her desire to continue her education and become an accountant. The girls prepared a MannaPack rice casserole and refreshments for the visitors.

"When we were packing the food, we really didn't realize the full impact it would have," said Eliza Diaz. "These MannaPacks are saving lives. We thank God for the opportunity to provide hope for our brothers and sisters that we don't know."

Many families depend on the MannaPack meals, which are donated by Feed My Starving Children, the charity's longtime partner, and packed by volunteers at events like Join The Pack around the United States. That partnership, which began in 2009, added up to 54 million meals in 2017. Caritas Arquidiocesana, Food For The Poor's in-country partner, delivers the meals.

The food is packaged in three forms: MannaPack rice meals with vegetables, vitamins and soy that makes six servings when combined with boiling water; a MannaPack Potato-D mix meant to help with dysentery-like cases; and MannaPack Potato-W that serves as a formula for babies whose mothers are too malnourished to provide adequate breast milk.

The easy-to-make, easy-to-transport meals are an answer to countless prayers. In a place like Guatemala, which suffers from one of the worst rates of chronic malnutrition in the world, the meals are like manna from heaven.

This fall, Food For The Poor will take Join The Pack on the road to Orlando. The first Join The Pack Orlando event will be Saturday, December 15, at Englewood Neighborhood Center.

Volunteers will pack 100,000 MannaPack meals for malnourished children in the Latin American and Caribbean countries served by Food For The Poor. They also will raise money to send orthopedic items, personal hygiene products and school supplies to Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria's devastating blow to the island one year ago.

"It's amazing to think these lifesaving bags of food have made it from events like Join The Pack to families here in Guatemala," said Food For The Poor Vice President Mark Khouri, who traveled with the donors.

"Millions more like it are being sent to other countries served by Food For The Poor," Khouri said. "We are extremely grateful that Juan and Eliza Diaz and Rosalie Co have chosen to work with this organization and to help us help the poorest of the poor to receive some of the basic necessities in life. They took the time to travel to Guatemala with us and to see firsthand what daily life is really like for families who are truly destitute and how MannaPack is giving hope."

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 primarily 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. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.

Michael Turnbell

Public Relations
954-427-2222 x 6054