By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
SOLON — Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow stood in the midst of a small crowd on a street corner outside St. Mary Catholic Church to watch participants take off in a fun run/walk to raise money for Mary’s Meals. Dressed in a blue-checked shirt and khaki slacks, the international humanitarian who founded Mary’s Meals looked like the other parents in the crowd. You wouldn’t have guessed he’d just been named to Time Magazine’s 2015 Top 100 Most Influential People in the World or that he was launching the U.S. tour for his first book at St. Mary’s in Solon.
With the noncompetitive run/walk underway, MacFarlane-Barrow strolled back to the parish building and ducked into the church to pray before signing books. Throughout his book “The Shed that Fed A Million Children: The Extraordinary Story of Mary’s Meals,” he reiterates God’s grace and inspiration in his life. “I hope this work of Mary’s Meals — this happy news of Mary’s Meals gives glory to God and gives honor to Mary his Mother and points us to her son Jesus,” he told The Catholic Messenger in an interview.
MacFarlane-Barrow chose to kick off his tour in Iowa (Solon, followed by Indianola and West Des Moines) because “Iowa is an incredible place in terms of support of Mary’s Meals. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make to come to Iowa to launch the book.” Solon residents in fact, presented him with a check for more than $16,000. They’re hoping to raise a total of $25,000 to feed the children in a Malawi school for one year.
The book signing coincides with the announcement that Mary’s Meals now feeds 1 million hungry children a day across four continents. Funds for the hunger eradication program come from donors like the children and adults of various faiths gathered in St. Mary’s parish hall. People like Allison Ockenfels, 17, of St. Joseph Parish in Wellman who became an ardent fundraiser for Mary’s Meals at age 12. As she stood in the book-signing line with her parents and an older brother, she learned that MacFarlane-Barrow mentioned her by name in his book. Her eyes grew wide with surprise.
In the book he describes how Allison, sitting in the audience at a Christ Our Life conference in Des Moines, heard him speak about Mary’s Meals. “She learnt it was possible to fund-raise to provide one specific school in Malawi with Mary’s Meals, through our ‘Sponsor a School’ campaign. Unfazed by the target of $12,000 required for one school, she set about fund-raising in her village,” MacFarlane-Barrow wrote.
“By the time I heard of Allison, she had already reached her target and was working on the next school!” The following year, he spent a night at the Ockenfels’ home and visited one of their sister parishes, St. Mary in Riverside. “It was packed. Every person there — and they had come from miles around — knew about Mary’s Meals and had been supporting Allison’s fund-raising effort. This farming community, these growers of food, had taken the Mary’s Meals message into their hearts in a very special way.”
MacFarlane-Barrow signed Allison’s book: “To Allison: Thank you for being an inspiration to me and for being part of this story! God bless you, Magnus.”
Brent and Ann Earley of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, sporting baby blue T-shirts advertising Mary’s Meals, also waited in line for MacFarlane-Barrow to sign their book. The couple began their quest several years ago to raise funds to support a Mary’s Meals kitchen in southern Malawi. An aunt’s business provided a three-to-one match, a big assist in the successful effort, Brent said. They’re naming the kitchen in honor of Brent’s mother, Mary Carol Earley, who died in 2009. Now the couple wants to help spread the word about Mary’s Meals. “It’s ecumenical in its application. If you’re hungry, you get fed, but you have to go to school,” Brent said.
During his talk following the book signing, MacFarlane-Barrow reflected on the runners and walkers he cheered for an hour earlier. “We’re walking together… like those of us here tonight (fundraising) or people who volunteer for Mary’s Meals to cook meals every day. We all have that same goal, to see the hungry child fed every day.
“This work of ours is not finished,” he told the audience, because 57 million kids still need meals. “There are many more children who are still waiting.”
For more information about Mary’s Meals in Iowa, contact Ellen Miller, coordinator of Mary’s Meals in the Heartland, at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call (515) 979-0730.
To purchase the book, “The Shed that Fed A Million Children: The Extraordinary Story of Mary’s Meals,” go to: http://goo.gl/uuib7j.