“You didn’t even know us, and you came and provided for us. We now live in paradise.” That message was delivered again and again during a late-April trip to Jamaica that took Food For The Poor donors from the beaches and rivers of Montego Bay to the inner-city gang garrisons of Kingston.
Friends of Food For The Poor Marv and Ellie Walworth traveled 2,300 miles from Grand Junction, Colorado, to Jamaica for the third time since 2013, when they first decided to build homes for families living in destitute conditions.
This time, they were there to meet a young St. James, Montego Bay, family left vulnerable and bereft by the death of their mother, inaugurate an infant school in St. Mary, and celebrate a reunion with families in McCook’s Pen.
The retired couple couldn’t wait to meet the family of 19 in Montego Bay and see the two new homes for them donated through Food For The Poor. The family came to the charity’s attention last year, when one of the younger children asked a stranger for help in a nearby market. That stranger turned to the bishop in Montego Bay, who in turn sought help from Food For The Poor.
“This came together under God’s direction, even though sometimes it seems random,” said Marv Walworth as he handed the keys to the new homes to the family.
The children had lost their mother in July and they were living in a dangerous house perched on shaky stilts beside a swift-flowing river. Holes in the floor were big enough to let in the light and reveal the red dirt 12 feet below. Rescuers could not walk far into the house for fear of breaking through the floor.
Now, the children live in two new Food For The Poor homes with sturdy flooring, roofs that keep out the rain and doors that lock against danger. The road to that safe home required a land donation made by a local deacon, a connection with donors, love and care from the bishop of Montego Bay and nuns from the Kkottangnae order.
“When we see people living in this kind of poverty, it is shocking, but we know this is who we are called to serve,” said Food For The Poor President/CEO Robin Mahfood. “God touches the hearts of people such as Marv and Ellie Walworth, and works through them to change the course of people’s lives. We can’t tell you how grateful we are that they responded when we called.”
While in Jamaica, the couple also had the opportunity to inaugurate Mason Hall Primary School’s Infant Department in St. Mary. Another donor, Gail Shinsky, helped fund the four-classroom school but was unable to travel for the celebration.
“I am a retired teacher, so it was easy for me and Marv to say, ‘We get it, they need a school,’” said Ellie Walworth, explaining their immediate response when they received the call for help. “To the teachers, I know when we talk we will understand the common stories of all teachers.”
Principal Jean Bryan told the couple she empathized with their tears.
“Can you imagine, you don’t know somebody and you come halfway around the world and give your money to help others build a foundation that will last for generations?” Bryan said. “Thank you for bringing help to every crevice, every hidden spot of Jamaica, including Mason Hall.”
Rohan Keyes, the father of 5-year-old Emerald, called the new school a joy and a great help. In addition to the classrooms, it has a principal’s office, sick bay, kitchen and sanitation.
“It is safe here now, you can send your kids and be assured that they will be safe,” Keyes said. “I am going to pray. I am not a praying person, but this has taught me the power of prayer.”
The reunion at Walworth Family Village at McCook’s Pen was a time of thanksgiving from the residents, who remembered what life was like before they met the Walworths.
“I was living in such a bad way, I thought no one would ever even look for me,” a resident of the village told the crowd. “I was in need, your sister was in great need! And then one day, a man came and he was from Food For The Poor and he told me that I would get a house.”
“I prayed and prayed, and God placed this in the hearts of these people,” said another, thanking the couple for changing their life of desperation into one that includes income-producing projects, including a sewing cooperative and an internet café.
The couple ignored the heat and walked up and down Ellie Road and Marv Road, holding hands with the children and visiting with the residents. Backyards gave up patches of grass to munching goats. The couple listened with smiles as residents told them they want to rename their community McCook’s Gardens.
Gardens were so important to the residents of that area that the original plan for 39 homes was changed to 33 to allow for garden space, and the other six homes were built around the perimeter of the village.
True to that desire to have lush gardens, one resident walked back to her house and picked a handful of Scotch bonnet peppers to share with Ellie Walworth. At the garden gate were rocks found and placed in the form of a heart.
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.
_ Kathy Skipper is public relations director for Food For The Poor
[Photo of the couple, celebrating Ellie Walworth's birthday in Jamaica, courtesy of Food For The Poor.]