Mary’s Meals founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, seated, with the Canadian team of the charity that feeds one million children in 13 countries each day. The Canadian chapter originated at Sacred Heart Catholic Elementary School in Niagara Falls, Ont., under the late Brigid Davidson. McFarlane-Barrow visited the school June 2. Photo by Jennifer Pellegrini

Mary’s Meals feeds a million kids a day

  • June 14, 2015

Students at Sacred Heart Catholic Elementary School in Niagara Falls, Ont., were buzzing with excitement when they heard Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder and CEO of Mary’s Meals, was coming to visit. The school only had about a week to prepare for his June 2 visit, but it was obvious where to start.

They invited the family of the late Brigid Davidson, who founded the Canadian chapter of Mary’s Meals. Davidson, a former educational resource teacher at Sacred Heart, started the group in 2010 with fellow teacher Lina Muraca and a few others. She died in 2013 of colon cancer.

“The Mary’s Meals team contacted us about a week (prior to the visit),” said Muraca. “It was the final leg (of their book tour) in Canada and they decided it would be great to touch base with Brigid Davidson’s old school.”

Mary’s Meals began in Scotland in 1992 and works with local communities, farmers and volunteers, to feed one million children in 13 nations each day and provide educational resources for schoolchildren. The program encourages children to attend school because for many of them, their daily lunch is often their only meal.

Davidson was inspired to get involved with the organization when she saw MacFarlane-Barrow featured as a CNN Hero in 2010. After she contacted Mary’s Meals, MacFarlane-Barrow flew in from Scotland and visited her at her home to discuss how they could create a Canadian chapter.

“They talked all the time,” said Muraca. “With Magnus on hand and two other people, they were able to get all the proper paperwork done to actually get Mary’s Meals here in Canada.”

MacFarlane-Barrow spent much time with Davidson’s family, sitting in her backyard, dreaming about the good they could do together.

“(Davidson) became a great friend of mine before she passed away and (it was) very special for me to come back there,” said MacFarlane-Barrow.

Davidson and her group of about 20 friends began by making rosary bracelets to raise funds for Mary’s Meals. The bracelets  are being sold by word of mouth through teachers who make up the Canadian team. When Davidson died, the community at Sacred Heart and the small team she formed for Mary’s Meals Canada continued her legacy.

“She called it her expiration date and she knew she had an expiration date, so she had these things that she wanted to get done,” said Muraca.

“She always found meditation helpful, so she prayed the rosary while she was making the bracelets. It made her feel at peace.”

In Davidson’s honour, Mary’s Meals Canada worked with the Niagara Catholic District School Board (NCDSB) to launch a board-wide fundraising day called Random Act of Kindness Day on Nov. 1, 2013. More than $33,000 was raised for Mary’s Meals Canada on that day.

“Brigid’s theory when she had this plan is that we would feed the children oatmeal so that they can see what a child would get through Mary’s Meals,” said Muraca.

“What was more touching was... it was amazing how many students brought in ($13.10 to feed one child in Malawi for one year), as young as kindergarten. Some parents wrote a note saying that these kids wanted to give their own money from their own piggy bank.”

MacFarlane-Barrow has recently been featured as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015. He has been travelling around North America to promote his new book, The Shed That Fed a Million Children. The book celebrates an important milestone for the organization, which MacFarlane-Barrow celebrated in late May in a small village in Malawi.

“We were in a particular village where we’ve reached the millionth child and the whole village was there singing and dancing,” he said. “It was a very special day indeed.”

In Niagara Falls, the milestone was marked with the famous falls bathed in blue lighting, the colour of Mary’s Meals.

MacFarlane-Barrow’s book tells the story of how Mary’s Meals got its start in the shed behind his parents’ home. MacFarlane-Barrow and his family are devout Catholics. In the autumn of 1983, he read an article about Mary’s apparition appearing to the children of Medjugorje and asking his parents if he and his siblings could go see it for themselves.

MacFarlane-Barrow remembered their pilgrimage to Medjugorje as awe-inspiring, so when war erupted in Bosnia in 1992, he and his brother, Fergus, decided to collect some food and clothing and drive it to Bosnia as a small mission trip. They had to book a week of vacation from their work as salmon farmers to deliver the supplies themselves.

When they returned home, they discovered word had spread about their trip to Bosnia. The shed was filled with more medical aid, dry food, blankets and clothing from the community. After a few days of praying and thinking, MacFarlane-Barrow handed in his letter of resignation, sold his house and decided to devote his time to Mary’s Meals.

“Hopefully, by reading this book, people will understand there is no good reason why a child should be hungry in this world of plenty,” he said. “It is possible. If a bunch of us in Scotland, out of a shed, can feed a million kids each day, why are there still some children that go hungry?”

MacFarlane-Barrow read an excerpt of the book, signed copies and mingled with the community during his visit to Sacred Heart. Davidson’s founding team hosted the event and Muraca was proud to tell MacFarlane-Barrow of their progress.

Last month, the school hosted its annual Mary’s Meals fundraiser and raised about $697, enough to feed more than 50 children in Brigid Davidson school in Balaka, Malawi for one year.

“Brigid was such an inspiration to everybody,” said Muraca. “She has so many old colleagues come back to the school to be a part of this and that’s how many people she touched.”

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