As director of a local agency serving thousands of people living in poverty, Mollie Dalpae has seen several lifetimes’ worth of heartache.
But nothing hits harder than watching kids suffer – which the director of Spokane Valley Community Center saw in vivid detail when she visited hurricane-ravaged parts of Guatemala.
Her recent visit found a destitute Third World country in need of food and clean water with thousands of young lives at risk and no significant U.S. aid in sight.
Hurricane Stan touched off mudslides that buried several communities, while killing hundreds and injuring thousands. The brutal storm also destroyed crops and wrecked food stores.
Dalpae met with Guatemalan first lady Wendy W. de Berger, who said corn is being rationed and, without relief, the affected townships will run out of food in June. The rest of the country is hard pressed to provide adequate aid.
International relief agencies report that doctors say half the children under 5 are at risk of death from malnutrition-related illness in the next three years if aid doesn’t arrive.
“You’re just so stunned at the magnitude of need. Where do you start?” Dalpae asked.
Dalpae starts by organizing Operation Candy Corn, a fund-raiser where local kids are asked to forgo a candy bar a week and donate their pocket change to purchase corn for Guatemalan kids at risk of starving.
She’s hoping that school leadership clubs, children’s groups and scouting organizations will adopt this service project.
Talia Leman of Waukee, Iowa, proved that kids have amazing fund-raising potential. She organized a give-up-treats-to-donate-money fund-raiser over Halloween that spread to 4,000 schools and resulted in $5.2 million being raised for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
“It sends a very strong message to the world,” that American kids care about kids, Dalpae said.
She hopes pennies, nickels and dimes will translate into $7,000 that can purchase 7,000 pounds of corn. From there, she hopes to get enough money to buy seeds for new crops.
Touring the country was a major eye-opener. She traveled from to San Carlos, Santa Katrina and Ixtahuacan.
People who take great care in their cleanliness and appearance were forced to relocate to squalid refugee camps, Dalpae said. Farmers, seamstresses and shop owners were scavenging for materials to build huts. Makeshift portable potties served an average of 18 people each.
While traveling, Dalpae distributed 100 pounds of medical supplies and shoes donated by Lady of Fatima parishioners, crayons she purchased herself and a big box of baby blankets handmade by a woman in Walla Walla.
Among the priests she met was David Berenti. Berenti, a priest ordained in Spokane, has devoted the past 30 years to helping Guatemalans.
Dalpae said meeting the first lady was a bright spot amid the harsh conditions.
“This woman walks one and a half hours to the villages. She’ll stay two to three days in huts to get to know the people and their needs. What an inspiration!”
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