A child in Madagascar enjoys a nutritious daily meal in a school canteen that is supported through Mary’s Meals and its donors. Photo courtesy Mary’s Meals

Two million meals... and counting

  • September 11, 2021

Despite challenges imposed by COVID-19, school feeding program Mary’s Meals has hit the significant milestone of feeding two million hungry children every school day.

After starting in 2002 feeding just over 200 children in Malawi, it took the organization 12 years to hit the one million global feeding mark. In the journey towards two million, the registered charity founded by humanitarian and entrepreneur Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow was able to cut that time in half to six years. Sheri McConnell, executive director of Mary’s Meals Canada, says with the continued growth of the movement and support of volunteers and donors in Canada and across the globe, they hope to reach another million more in half the time.

“We’re praying and believing that we can hit that three million mark within three years,” said McConnell. “We celebrate the two-million milestone, but the action piece is our hope that others would join us in a deeper way so that we can move towards hitting that three-million mark sooner than later.”

Mary’s Meals provides one nutritious meal a day to some of the world’s hungriest children in 19  countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean. Issues brought on by the pandemic including school closures have further compounded existing challenges in these nations. With a different situation in every country, staff and community supporters on the ground have had to remain nimble as they have worked  to maintain their objective of providing children with a meal a day.

Without in-person classes, the primary vehicle to provide meals was impeded, but the program team pivoted quickly and were able to provide meals to communities instead.

In India, one of the nations most severely impacted by COVID-19, after a pause for safety reasons Mary’s Meals has been able to get back to feeding children in that country as well. Navigating on-again, off-again school closures, McConnell says people in the communities themselves have stepped up to fill in the gaps in helping get meals to children who have not been able to go to school.

Community distribution parcels include personal hygiene products to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and food to help feed families for weeks or even a month.

“Our commitment is that our work won’t stop,” said McConnell. “Even during the challenging times, parents and guardians who prepare the meals would cook them at home for the children or a temporary place of education depending on what was going on with the schools in that respective geographical area.”

Many children in these communities have to walk several hours to get to school, and once they arrive are often too tired to learn. In many cases the Mary’s Meal might be the only meal they get in a day. The organization works to make a long-term sustainable impact by continuing to provide a daily meal in a place of learning.

“When we’re serving daily meals in a place of education, obviously it helps the most vulnerable to go to school, but what it does is it gives them the freedom to learn and to fulfill their potential,” said McConnell. “We’re seeing students who’ve grown up being a part of the Mary’s Meals school program who in turn grow up and they stay in school usually and go on to have opportunities to pursue further education. There are so many stories of where they come back and come into a place of even volunteering as adults. And then their brothers and sisters are able to join our feeding programs. By supporting children and their families it has the potential to be a ladder out of poverty.”

Amazed by the generosity of Canadians who have stood with them throughout the pandemic, Mary’s Meals continues to look for unique ways to partner with people and organizations across the nation to carry the vision forward. At just $26.40 to feed a child for an entire school year, McConnell says with faith and creative energy the possibilities are endless.

“As we love God, I think we are compelled to action, whether we’re loving our next-door neighbour that lives beside us but also not forgetting our global neighbour,” said McConnell. “Even in these difficult times, we see that we as Canadians can make a difference. I really believe that God honours that and will bless us as we bless others. I’m just so thankful for those who have gotten behind us.”

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