Fasting teens cook meals for homeless

250 in Howard join thousands across the country in World Vision-sponsored '30-hour famine'

March 01, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Kat Nicholson, 12, helped fry 22 pounds of bacon and scramble 20 dozen eggs well before dawn yesterday so that a Howard County food shelter could serve breakfast.

Hours later, she was making dozens of bag lunches to distribute to the homeless in Baltimore. The smell and the feel of food heightened her hunger, but she didn't so much as take a taste. She had promised to fast for 30 hours.

About 250 Howard County teens from more than a dozen different churches participated in the 2009 World Vision 30 Hour Famine, an event that meant forgoing food from midday Friday to 6 p.m. yesterday.

"I smell like bacon, and my hands are covered with peanut butter," Kat said. "We might all be hungry, but we are doing something to help somebody else."

The fast highlights worldwide hunger and raises money to feed millions. During every one of those 30 hours, nearly 1,000 children worldwide die of malnutrition, according to World Vision, a Boston-based humanitarian organization.

"Hunger is a little easier to understand when you go through it yourself," said Rene Albrecht, 14. "Many people go through this every day. We are only doing it for a little while."

The youths broke into teams and played games designed to focus on homelessness, malnutrition and poverty.

Blindfolded, they groped on the floor, trying to find bottled water, fruit and bags of rice.

Occasionally, two kids would latch on to the same item. Kyle Ruygrok, 13, said it was easy to give up the fight because, "we are lucky in this country, but in other countries there is never enough food."

Warren Harris, 12, slept Friday night in a cardboard box in a church basement. But he still had enough energy to help with one of 22 community service projects.

"The box wasn't too bad," he said. "It had bubble wrap padding, but it did tip over a few times."

The Stepniak sisters, Caroline, 11, and Marianna, 13, baked bread and cookies from scratch and put together chicken noodle soup for a free meal they would serve guests at their church.

"This helps us understand what people fighting to find food every day are going through," Marianna said.

Kat's group made nearly 150 bagged lunches. Parents and pastors drove several dozen youths to Central Avenue in East Baltimore, where they passed out the meals. Gene Willia, 54, thanked the children.

"If everyone did this, the world would be a better place," he said.

For most, the fast began at noon Friday. Many teens spent the night with adult supervision in a Columbia warehouse renovated into a club for teens.

"This is a great thing for Howard kids to experience," said Kurt Wheeler, a volunteer youth minister. "They come from what most of the world considers privilege."

The youth listened to Christian music and watched videos provided by World Vision that gave them a look into the face of the world's hungry.

"The atmosphere was loud like a rock concert, but one where you wanted your children to go," said Gina Ellrich, a Marriottsville mother whose 13-year-old daughter, Gabi, was among those fasting.

About 500,000 youths across the United States were expected to join the fast this weekend and raise about $12 million in pledges to fight hunger, said Laura Blank, World Vision spokeswoman.

"It is not just about giving up food, but also about gaining a greater understanding of what it is like to go without, and to try to imagine life without a roof over your head, not knowing where your next meal is coming from," she said. "This event gives them a tangible taste of what famine looks like."

Organizers of the Howard County fast expected to raise about $30,000 mostly from participants' pledges.

"This is all about teaching kids to serve others and to love their neighbors," said Earl Ridgell, a pastor at the Columbia Chinese Baptist Church. "They know that raising money for this cause actually saves lives."

Youth from Friendship Baptist Church in Sykesville staged a smaller, similar event that included donating food and clothes to a Baltimore mission and painting a learning center in the city.

"The famine gives them an understanding of how difficult it is to function, when you are hungry," said Travis J. Johnson, student pastor.

"It also helps them to realize how much we have and that we are wealthier than much of the world."

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View an online gallery of photos at baltimoresun.com/hunger

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