By Celine Klosterman
Allison Ockenfels, 12, couldn’t shake the knowledge that students not much younger than her are going hungry throughout the world.
“It’s hard to imagine going without a meal for a couple days,” said the member of St. Joseph Parish in Wellman.
So she’s spearheading a fundraising effort to feed children in Malawi through Mary’s Meals, an international movement to provide food and education for children in poverty-plagued areas. Since launching her campaign Nov. 20, she’s raised more than $6,500 toward her goal of $11,000, which will pay to build and equip a kitchen at an African school. After donors have contributed enough to pay for the kitchen, Allison wants to raise $7,000 to feed students through that kitchen for a year. Providing meals at school encourages children to attend, and well-fed students can better focus on learning, Mary’s Meals notes.
Allison said her effort was inspired by Matthew 25:35, in which Jesus says: “For I was hungry and you gave me food… whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” She had earlier heard about Mary’s Meals in Des Moines during the Oct. 16-17 Christ Our Life Catholic Conference, at which the organization’s founder, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow of Scotland, spoke on topics including child hunger.
“I can’t stop thinking about those kids,” she later told her mother, Pam Ockenfels. So the student brought the idea of launching a fundraising campaign to Father Rich Adam, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Mary Parish in Riverside. He later donated the first $1,000 toward her goal, and the Wellman parish’s Altar & Rosary Society chipped in $500.
“It impressed me that she wanted to do this,” Fr. Adam said.
Allison spoke during Masses and collected donations at the three parishes the weekend of Nov. 20-21. She also hopes to speak at faith formation classes and at area schools, churches and organizations.
Last week, the homeschooled student said she was pleasantly surprised by how much people already have responded to her appeal.
“Our cluster parishes are so behind her,” said Pat Schmida, a member of St. Joseph Parish’s Altar & Rosary Society. “She’s just a wonder.”
Like Allison, Schmida was inspired at the Christ Our Life conference by hearing about Mary’s Meals, which says 93 percent of donations it receives go to charity. The organization also says it can provide a nutritious serving of porridge for a child in Malawi every school day for a year for about $10, thanks to community volunteers, the buying power of foreign money in Malawi, and buying and cooking in bulk.
To donate, send a check payable to Mary’s Meals USA to Allison Ockenfels, 3351 V Ave., Wellman, IA, 52356. You may also visit www.marysmealsusa.org, and type “Malawi Iowa Kitchen” into a field offering donors an opportunity to leave a message for Mary’s Meals.