Mary’s Meals founder Magnus MacFarlance-Barrow poses with twin sisters Tianna and Audrina Alles of Oakville, who gave up their allowances this summer to the charity. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Little acts of love make big difference

  • September 1, 2017

Mary’s Meals is about lots of little acts of love, said founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow.

It is about eight-year-old twins Audrina and Tianna Alles from Oakville, Ont., who donated their summer allowances so that young children in Malawi can have one meal a day for an entire school year.

It is about 11-year-old André from Winnipeg, Man., who had an ice tea stand and collected aluminum cans from his neighbours to raise $430 over the summer.

It is about June Stevens from Markham, Ont., who bought 45 copies of The Shed That Fed a Million Children to spread the story of Mary’s Meals to all her friends.

These are the individuals that MacFarlane-Barrow came to thank in person when he visited Toronto Aug. 24. Matt and Michelle McGrath hosted a garden party in their home to bring together people across the Greater Toronto Area that have been raising money and awareness for Mary’s Meals within their communities.

“(Mary’s Meals) has been growing just like how it did in the beginning, with lots and lots of little acts of love,” said MacFarlane- Barrow. “Back in our head office in Glasgow (Scotland), we don’t sit there thinking we know how to fundraise in Canada, or the U.S. or Germany. What we see is that people figure out their own way…. I’m really, really grateful to those of you who are already doing that.”

MacFarlane-Barrow makes regular visits to Canada and 14 other countries where affiliates and informal groups of supporters raise funds and awareness for their work.

Mary’s Meals began in 2002 with a simple mission — to provide one good meal to every child in their place of education. There are more than 60 million primary school-age children in the developing world who are out of school because of hunger and poverty. Mary’s Meals provides daily meals to about 1.2 million children in 14 developing countries.

“Maybe of all the years we’ve been working, I think I’ve maybe seen more chronic suffering and hunger than ever this year,” said MacFarlane-Barrow.

The majority of Mary’s Meals programs are established in Malawi where it feeds about 900,000 children, or 30 per cent of the country’s children in need.

MacFarlane-Barrow said in every school where Mary’s Meals programs are established, the school has seen an enormous increase in attendance and in academic performance.

“It’s a very simple idea,” he said. “We meet their immediate need for food, but at the same time, we tackle all the underlying causes of poverty by always serving that meal in a place that allows them to gain that education that can set them free.”

Mary’s Meals Canada ( was formed in 2010 when Brigid Davidson started a group with her fellow teachers at Sacred Heart Catholic Elementary School in Niagara Falls, Ont. Davidson died of colon cancer in 2013.

Since then, the Canadian chapter has grown to more than 2,600 donors and volunteers across the country. Jill Mowser, fundraising coordinator of Mary’s Meals Canada, said this is just the beginning.

“I think it’s only recently that Mary’s Meals Canada is gaining this momentum,” said Mowser. “Last year, we more than doubled our income. We raised about $575,000…. The year before that we raised $272,000.”

And it seems as though Mary’s Meals Canada is about to grow even more. Mowser announced that an anonymous donor from Toronto has pledged to match up to $125,000 of new monthly donations this year.

“We’ve got a long way to go in Canada and there’s lot of potential,” said Mowser.

Mowser said Mary’s Meals Canada relies heavily on its volunteers. The Canadian chapter’s headquarters does not have a physical building. Rather it is run by a small team of 40 volunteers in Calgary, Alta. In fact, Mowser was only hired last year to be the only full-time staff member of Mary’s Meals Canada.

Toronto has the second largest group in the country with about 20 individual volunteers in the region. Several parishes in Melville, Sask., hold annual fundraising events every year. There are also several individual supporters scattered across the country.

“We’re a low-touch charity so what we’ll do is we just share our story,” said Mowser. “And we find that when we share our story and they hear about our work, they want to get involved and they want to give us their support.”

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