By Barb Arland-Fye
LECLAIRE — Twelve-year-old Hannah Dohmen had never fasted for 24 hours until last weekend when she participated in a hunger awareness event at Our Lady of the River Parish.
One of seven youth and several adult chaperones who made the 24 Hour Food Fast Hunger Awareness Overnight Retreat, Hannah did it because “I thought about the kids who don’t have a chance to eat.”
Participants had plenty of opportunity to think about kids who don’t have enough to eat. They began the retreat April 24 by selecting a “solidarity partner” from among a number of snapshots of Haitian children whom adult parishioners had photographed during mission trips to Haiti. Each Food Fast participant attached a photo of their solidarity partner to a name tag they wore throughout the retreat.
“We told the youth that when they had hunger pangs they should think of their solidarity partners,” said Jennifer Hildebrand, the parish’s youth minister and lead organizer of Food Fast.
The purpose of the retreat, a project of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), is to create an awareness of the impact of poverty and inequity in a world of plenty and to provide participants with ideas about how to make positive changes in the world.
The youth and adults prayed, listened to speakers, talked, played games, did craft projects, watched a movie and cleaned up ditches along the Mississippi River in LeClaire. They attended Saturday night Mass at Our Lady of the River and ended their fast afterward with pizza, salad and cookies. They also contributed donations to CRS.
Crosses they made as a craft project will be sent to Haiti on an upcoming mission trip. Our Lady of the River is a partner in ServeHaiti, an organization that works in solidarity with the Haitian people of Grand-Bois to provide health care and alleviate the extreme poverty of that region.
Hannah said she didn’t get hungry during Food Fast because she filled up on Gatorade.
Cory Davison, 13, said the hardest part of the fast for him was the last half-hour.
He chose to participate in Food Fast because “I wanted to see what it’s like when people in Haiti go hungry.” He learned they get hungry a lot and have few possessions. “They’re not as fortunate as we are,” Cory said. He, along with Hannah and the other participants, enjoyed ditch cleanup. “We got to pick up garbage and help the environment,” he said.
Katie Paris, 16, said the 24-hour fast was a lot easier than she expected. “I had a lot of water. I wasn’t as hungry as I thought I’d be.” She’s always enjoyed ditch cleanup, a biannual parish project, but this time was more meaningful because “we were helping hungry people and helping the environment at the same time.”
Laura Blunk, 18, one of the youth organizers, found her second Food Fast to be more challenging than the first. What she took away from the experience was a desire to go to Haiti to help the people. She plans to do that next summer.
And during the ditch cleanup, she said she realized “how much hard work Haitians have to do on an empty stomach.”
Her brother Ryan, 13, said his first Food Fast was a fun and fairly easy experience. What he had a hard time understanding was how kids in Haiti “can go a whole day without eating and do chores on a regular basis.”
Adult chaperone Dean Ehrecke said Food Fast reminded him again “of how much poverty there is.”
Liz McDermott was a chaperone and gave a presentation on Haiti. She’s been there a number of times and serves on the ServeHaiti board. She came away from the retreat with a sense of hope. “To see young kids willing to take 24 hours out of their lives (for this retreat), that’s very impressive. It makes me hopeful for the future.”