Liz Lambert will be taking the plunge off of Alcatraz and swimming two kilometres to shore to raise funds for Mary’s Meals and a school in Malawi. Photo courtesy of Liz Lambert

Woman takes Alcatraz plunge for Mary’s Meals

  • September 20, 2018

Liz Lambert will be taking on the greatest physical challenge of her life Sept. 29 when she takes the plunge to swim two-kilometres of the frigid San Francisco Bay from the famous Alcatraz Island to the mainland.

And there will be 656 children in Malawi who will be better off for her efforts.

Lambert has taken up the Alcatraz Invitational challenge with the goal of raising $10,500 for Mary’s Meals, the international charity that provides a meal a day to children in schools in some of the world’s most impoverished nations. 

Lambert’s beneficiary will be Habitat Primary School in Malawi. That’s enough to provide a meal a day to the school’s 656 children, many of whom would not be able to attend school without such support.

“I’m turning 40, I’ve been looking for a physical challenge to really motivate myself to go to the gym and I thought what a wonderful way to raise funds for Mary’s Meals at the same time,” said the Toronto resident and Mary’s Meals volunteer.

Lambert will be relying on eight months of training, five days a week in the pool and Lake Ontario. She jokes that she must have been a fish in a previous life, “so I’ve always been quite comfortable in the water.” 

Still, she knows it’s going to be a tough challenge. The cold waters of the Pacific (between 10 and 15 degrees), strong currents, waves and just generally rough waters around the island that housed the famous maximum security prison is intimidating. But she intends to embrace her new “no fear” philosophy in helping tackle the swim.

Mary’s Meals is an organization that has grown close to her heart over the past few years. She discovered it a couple of years ago when her mother was in hospital. A family of voracious readers, Lambert went to the gift shop looking for something to share with her mother. She came upon The Shed That Fed a Million Children, the book by Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder and global chief executive of Mary’s Meals. The book detailed MacFarlane-Barrow’s journey that led to the creation of Mary’s Meals, which now works in 17 nations around the world, feeding thousands of children. 

The story of Mary’s Meals and how it grew out of MacFarlane-Barrow’s pilgrimage to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1983 both touched and fascinated Lambert and led her to investigate opportunities to help at home in Toronto. She’s since hosted fundraisers for the organization and set out on this latest journey hoping to raise $10,500. She’s reached about $7,000 in the weeks before her swim, mostly by hitting up family and friends for sponsorship. She has faith she will eventually meet her full target.

The Mary’s Meals model of empowering local people was what really impressed Lambert. 

“There are so many worthy causes, but the thing that differentiated Mary’s Meals was that it is basically owned at the local level,” she said. “This approach really allows people locally to have a lot of say in how things proceed…. With Mary’s Meals, you know your money is not going to just go into admin fees. They have a model where the end recipient is receiving the funds.”

The organization feeds into the social justice orientation of Lambert, who has a master’s in social work and is director of business development for ISX, International Student Exchange. ISX hosts international students in Canada and the United States and customizes trips that allow the students to learn about our nations.

To donate to Lambert’s effort, see

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