By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
---- — PENDLETON — For most of us, peanut butter on the pantry shelf becomes a lunch of last resort when we can't figure out what else to eat.
But that jar of Jif, Peter Pan, or Skippy we take for granted can mean the difference between life and death for starving children in remote regions of Haiti where food — especially protein — is in chronically short supply.
Students in Lori Ryan's second grade class at East Elementary school have embraced the cause of feeding hungry children.
Last year as first graders, they collected 280 jars of peanut butter for a missionary group with local ties called Real Hope for Haiti, which operates a health clinic and food pantry in the desperately poor Caribbean island nation, said Ryan.
This year, the children decided they wanted to double that amount. When the drive concluded on April 25, they exceeded that goal, collecting more than 575 jars of the gooey commodity. Not only that, they raised $212.46 in quarter donations taped to jar lids to help defray shipping costs.
"Friday was the last day and I didn't think that we were going to make our goal, but I told the kids that at least we did better than last year," Ryan said. The previous day, however, representatives from the missionary group visited the school.
"After the missionaries showed up, the peanut butter just poured in," Ryan added.
The kids were inspired to take action because one of their classmates, eight-year-old Olivia Fox, is Haitian, the adopted daughter of a Madison County couple, Rob and Angela Fox.
When the project began last year, Rob Fox said, "the kids were so excited to know that they were helping to save a life."
A technologist at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital, Fox said he's been on nine missionary trips to Haiti since 2001. The couple served as a host family for Olivia when she was brought to the states for medical treatment as an infant.
Fox said when he returned to Haiti months later, Olivia's biological father was dead. Her mother was homeless and unable care for her daughter, and she asked him to adopt the child.
Fox has worked with Davis Zachary, the founder of Real Hope for Haiti, for two years. Many of the children they work with suffer from kwashiorkor, a type of malnutrition that comes from protein deficiency because they don't have access to eggs, fish or meat.
The children often are so malnourished they lose the desire to eat, or spit up anything solid they swallow. But a dollop of peanut butter placed on the roof of their mouths dissolves slowly and can help restore their digestion.
What also makes peanut butter an ideal source of protein in the dire conditions that exist in Haiti is that it requires no refrigeration and has a long shelf life. Ryan said the clinic in Haiti distributes about 500 jars of peanut butter every month.
In addition to showing compassion for children their own age who are struggling just to survive, Ryan said her students organized the entire collection drive employing skills they've learned in class to get the job done, including adding, subtracting, estimating and the logistics involved with figuring out how to track and store hundreds of jars of peanut butter.
She hopes to include more South Madison Community schools in the relief effort next year.
"I think my kids learned more from this than anything," Ryan said. "It was just a joyous learning experience."
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How you can help To support the food relief and other aid efforts of Real Hope for Haiti, you may write a check made out to "RHFH" and send it to: Real Hope For Haiti 15215 Endeavor Drive Noblesville IN 46060 Or, you can make a donation online at www.realhopeforhaiti.org