Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow is answering prayers with Mary’s Meals, and yet he ended his talk to about 400 people at St. Stephen the First Martyr Church in Warwick by asking for prayers.
“I will be asking to not just carry on raising funds but to pray for our work. I believe this work is a fruit of prayer and I’ll be asking people to continue to pray for us,” MacFarlane-Barrow, CEO and founder of Mary’s Meals, told CNY.
MacFarland-Barrow, a native of Scotland, spoke at the Warwick church for about 30 minutes on Dec. 14, sharing his stories from Mary’s Meals and thanking the parish for raising more than $38,000 for the nonprofit organization, which serves a daily meal to about 1.2 million children at schools in 13 countries. He later answered questions before holding a book signing in the church lobby for his 2015 book, “The Shed That Fed a Million Children.”
The proceeds from one copy of the $25 book will feed one child for eight months at Dzungwi Primary School in Malawi, the school receiving funds raised by St. Stephen’s parish. Shirts, bags and hats designed by St. Stephen-St. Edward School alumnus Chris DiMauro were among other items for sale at St. Stephen’s, with each item listed according to price and how long it will feed a child at the Malawi school.
Five cents a day, or $19.50 a year, feeds a child one meal a day. The meal is served at school to encourage children to enroll and attend classes, thus Mary’s Meals motto of Food + School = Hope.
“I just have been hearing for some time the amazing things going on here in support of Mary’s Meals,” MacFarlane-Barrow said. “For a couple of years, people have been inviting me to come, and I’ve always wanted to come. Finally, I had an opportunity this time, and I’m very excited to be here.”
Mary’s Meals, established in 2002, has U.S. headquarters in Bloomfield, N.J. It serves daily meals to about 900,000 children in Malawi, with the help of 85,000 volunteers.
“It’s something more people should take part in because it’s an issue that has to be solved,” said Robert Nelson, an eighth-grader at St. Stephen-St. Edward. “Before this, I knew what was going on in other countries with children starving, but it really never affected me because I hadn’t seen it. I watched one of the movies, ‘Child 31,’ and it was sad this is going on and it has to change.”
Kyle Trapp, an eighth-grader at St. Stephen-St. Edward School, added, “This may have been life-changing for a few people here who didn’t know about it. At first, I didn’t know a lot of people were dying of starvation. This really opened my eyes. It helps to know you can do something about it than just know it’s there.”
Lydia VanDuynhoven, director of religious education at St. Stephen’s who organized the parish event, said St. Stephen’s needed just four months to raise $11,500 to build a school kitchen at Dzungwi Primary School, which has more than 600 children. There are fund-raisers, and children collect bottles and cans to raise money, and altar servers donate part or all of the stipend they earn at a Funeral Mass to Mary’s Meals.
“Our school and church has over the last four years worked diligently to raise funds for Mary’s Meals because we feel it’s so important,” she said. “When we first started this, we had a meeting to talk about how a child can help from things like donating tooth fairy money. We added it to our math curriculum and talked about it in social studies at the school. We absorbed the entire program into our parish.”
Noreen Healy, the mother of two sons who are enrolled at St. Stephen-St. Edward, said MacFarlane-Barrow is a “real inspiration to all of us,” and the children are aware and appreciative because of their involvement in raising money for Mary’s Meals.
“It’s making them more aware of others who don’t have what they have,” Ms. Healy said. “To give to others and give back makes them appreciate more what they do have and makes them realize how much they do have, which is good at an early age.”
The story of Mary’s Meals dates to 1992, when MacFarlane-Barrow and his brother, Fergus, inspired by their Catholic faith, asked their parents to use their shed in Scotland to store donated food, clothes and medicine for the people of Bosnia. The brothers took time off from their fish-farming work and purchased a second-hand Land Rover to deliver the donated goods and money. When they returned to Scotland, the shed was filled and another trip needed to be planned. Magnus realized he needed to give up his job at the fish farm to continue this mission.
MacFarlane-Barrow was inspired to start Mary’s Meals after he met six young children and their mother, who was dying of AIDS, in Malawi. MacFarlane-Barrow asked the eldest child what he hoped for, and the boy said he hoped to have enough food and to attend school one day.
Mary’s Meals will purchase the food in the country where the children are receiving the meals to boost that nation’s economy. Earlier this year, Mary’s Meals began feeding Syrian refugee children in Lebanon as its first mission in the Middle East.
“It’s something that never ceases to amaze me and surprise me in a beautiful way how this grows around the world,” MacFarlane-Barrow said. “This is a perfect example of that here at St. Stephen’s. They seem to take this work to their hearts and do incredible things.
“I have a huge gratitude for Mary’s Meals. For me, it feels like a gift. I’m very grateful God’s given me this opportunity to be part of this mission.”