Cherry Hill resident takes the trip of a lifetime

Cherry Hill resident, Gerry Nanos, had an eye-opening experience when when he arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, earlier this month.

Some experiences leave an impact on our souls, prompting us to re-evaluate everything we once knew about life from that day forward. For Cherry Hill resident, Gerry Nanos, that experience came when he arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, earlier this month.

Nanos joined forces with Feed My Starving Children, a national faith-based organization that prepares food packages for children in impoverished countries, three years ago to learn more about the harsh conditions children were living in and work to fix it.

With 59 percent of Haitians living under Haiti’s national poverty line, Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world, according to The World Bank, a source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world.

During their time in Haiti, the volunteers witnessed a plethora of Haitians struggling to get the proper nutrients to stay healthy due to financial instability. By visiting orphanages in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas, Nanos witnessed how food packages from members of Feed My Starving Children are being distributed and gained a firsthand look inside the impoverished country.

Nanos traveled with five people from around the country affiliated with the organization on Saturday, Feb. 3, for five “eye-opening” days. Paying for his travel expenses, Nanos embarked on a journey through a sea of people in an unfamiliar land.

‘’It was chaos,’’ Nanos said. “When we arrived and left the terminal, there was a rush of people, and between the crowds and noises and the language barrier, it was difficult.”

Throughout their stay, the volunteers began their day with breakfast before traveling to the designated orphanages. Upon arrival, volunteers met with a couple and their children who were running one of the local orphanages. Expressing their appreciation for receiving the necessary food to support the orphans in the facility, the father personally thanked the volunteers for providing security to children who otherwise would not have any.

“He was so grateful to us, practically cried with gratitude to meet us,” chairman of the group and Haddonfield resident Gerry Rice said.

The group stopped at Real Hope for Haiti, an orphanage that also has a clinic for malnourished children and cholera patients. With some people traveling hours by foot just to bring their children to the clinic, the volunteers were informed that, sadly, three children passed away just in the previous week.

Although it was disheartening for Nanos and the group to see some of the kids and their state of heath, they were grateful to have gotten the experience. Rice explained that a lot of the volunteers were unable to distinguish how old the children were due to malnourishment, which is something volunteers with Feed My Starving Children aim to change. A moment that presented as a challenge to Nanos during his trip happened while visiting at Real Hope for Haiti. Nanos met a young girl in the orphanage who captured his attention because, despite his best efforts to brighten up her day, she would not laugh or even smile.

“Many of the children you could get to laugh. She was so sad, which is heartbreaking,” Nanos said. “No matter what I did, she wouldn’t laugh. She had such sad eyes.”

In those moments of sadness, Nanos discovered not only how fortunate he is but how dedicated he would have to be to make a difference and spread the word about providing food and security to kids who have very little.

Nanos and the volunteers through Feed My Starving Children prepare meals specially designed for malnourished children, containing soy, rice, dehydrated vegetables and vitamins and minerals sealed in bags to be shipped worldwide where it is “critically needed.” Each food bag is made so famished children can “keep it down” and get the necessary vitamins and minerals, according to Nanos.

Once the orphanages receive boxes consisting of 36 bags of food, in a primitive process, the bags are opened and cooked with boiling water over an open flame on a dirt floor, Nanos explained.

“Some people are really happy to write a check, that’s great and it’s done, but for people like us, it’s not enough,” Rice said. “We needed to get involved and pack the meals and understand how the meals are getting there.”

On April 20–22, the Haddonfield Council of Churches will host a Feed My Starving Children food packing event at the Cherry Hill National Guard Armory. All are encouraged to participate. Funding for the event will come from the community. For more information or to donate, contact Rice at gerviola@mac.com, and to volunteer go to volunteer.fmsc.org/register/#.Wo44c6inHD4.