How to Feed Haiti

PHOTO Since 2000, the What If? Foundation has provided free meals and education scholarships to members of the Tiplas Kazo community outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Today, thousands of Haitians may get their first real meal since last Tuesday's earthquake thanks to a small, American nonprofit group, the What If? Foundation.

This decade-old foundation was started by a Californian, Margaret Trost, to help ease the burden of malnutrition for the children of the impoverished Tiplas Kazo neighborhood of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.

Thanks to an influx of nearly $50,000 in donations over the past week, however, the foundation hopes to extend their program beyond its usual services in Tiplas Kazo, providing hot meals to thousands of hungry, displaced citizens in the Port-au-Prince area.

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"The community there had a vision to feed the hungry among them," Trost says, and the organization, founded in 2000, has helped bring that vision to life.

The center, run predominantly by Haitians with the help of local St. Claire's church, was offering free meals to children and some adults when Tuesday's earthquake ravaged the city, temporarily closing down their kitchen.

But after the building was approved as structurally safe Sunday night, Trost and local organizer Lavarice Gaudin set their sights on reopening. Gaudin was en route from the Dominican Republic with a truckload of food -- rice, cooking oil, beans -- as of Monday afternoon in hopes of serving their first post-earthquake meal Monday night.

"Instead of our regular 1,500 meals a day, we are going to try to serve as many as possible -- could be thousands," says Trost who has been organizing the reopening with Gaudin from the foundation's headquarters in Berkeley, Calif.

"No aid has gotten to this spot yet [so] thousands of people are coming out -- they haven't eaten since the earthquake," she adds.

The foundation plans to expand their meal program as far as the donated money will allow, hopefully setting up satellite food stations to serve the homeless who have begun to congregate in outdoor, ad hoc villages in and around Port-au-Prince.

The Foundation That Feeds Thousands

The What If? Foundation came into being after Trost made a two-week volunteering trip to Port-au-Prince 10 years ago, after her husband died unexpectedly at the age of 36.

Though she had done similar volunteer work in other developing nations, Trost says she "had never seen that scale of poverty before…you could see it in their eyes. With 70 percent of Haitians living on less than two dollars a day, the opportunity to buy food that would have the nutrients kids need is not there."

"As a mother, going there and seeing children the age of my son who were hungry, I had to respond in some way," she adds.

And Trost's partnership with Gaudin and other community leaders in Tiplas Kazo has been a great success. Some people walk up to five miles to get the only meal they will have that day.

The foundation also provides classes teaching self-sufficiency skills to kids and organizes education scholarships for over 200 kids from elementary through college age.

Even more impressive – Trost has been told by visiting doctors that children in the community don't have the physical signs of malnutrition as so many other children in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti do.

"Just one meal a day, that has really helped to create a healthier generation of children in this community," Trost says.

Hunger in Haiti

Malnutrition remains an ever-present issue for citizens of Haiti -- one that has only been magnified by last week's disaster.

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