Unique Programs at the East Africa Location
While Midwest Food Bank has a distinct mission and a steady set of values as an organization, God’s guidance has taken each of our locations on its own path of discovery and growth. We are proud that our community has provided enough support and volunteerism to fuel our own unique programs. Exclusive to the Bloomington location, these programs started as ideas from our volunteers and grew into compassionate acts of care that reach worldwide.
Tender Mercies Program
Since food donations are scarce, Midwest Food Bank of East Africa needed alternative options for supplying food to the schools for the children. With the successful launch of the Tender Mercies program at the Peoria and Morton locations, the East Africa location’s board members decided they needed to try to implement this program in Kenya.
After deciding to launch a Tender Mercies program in East Africa, the largest dilemma they faced was taking away from the Kenyan economy by shipping the US product there. To work around this issue, they needed to learn how to produce this product from resources found in Kenya. So the board members once again made the trip to Kenya to look for a place to package for the Tender Mercies program. As with all great movements within the Midwest Food Bank organization, God had a plan.
While there, the group attended a church service and they met a man after the service who owned a soybean processing plant called SoyAfric. Cornelius, the owner of the plant, was so moved by the impact Midwest Food Bank was making in Kenya already, that he agreed to help without hesitation. He agreed to take on all responsibilities of the Tender Mercies program. He orders all the supplies and keeps inventory, and his plant packages the ingredients.
Once they had the logistics of the Tender Mercies program of East Africa in place, they began considering what was needed for nutrition for the children of Kenya. They wanted to use foods found naturally in East Africa that were packed with nutrition. They also knew that the product produced in the United States isn’t safe enough for children under the age of 5, but in East Africa, children go to school when they can walk. They needed something that was safer and more nutritious then what was produced in the United States Tender Mercies Program.
With the help of all the new friends the board members had made with their trips to East Africa, they came up with a solution. The Tender Mercies program of East Africa uses cowpeas, lentils, rice, full-fat soy, and a blended micro-nutrient package specifically for children in the packaged meals. This combination of ingredients is perfect because they are all produced in East Africa, and the full-fat soy is a byproduct of the soybean plant and therefore is conveniently already on-site. This combination of ingredients has a shorter cooking time compared to the product produced in the United States meaning less fuel is used to cook it. These meals are also safe for children as young as 6 months, so there is no risk of children getting sick or not being able to eat the product. Since providing these meals that are packed with nutrition, the educators have begun noticing a huge effect on the children’s work and appearance. They are doing better in their schoolwork, can stay focused for longer periods, and are more alert. They also look healthier due to the better nutrition they are receiving.
Not only does Cornelius use his plant and trucks to assist with the Tender Mercies program, but he does all of this at cost or even less, and it costs about $0.18 per meal. The plant employees hand package and deliver the product to areas with the most need such as areas that have been hit hardest by droughts. In 2017, the plant produced 280 metric tons (310 US tons) which is equivalent to 2.8 million meals. Midwest Food Bank of East Africa is the largest producer for the Tender Mercies program, and it continues to grow.
The Crocodile Farm
As with Cornelius and the soybean plant, God put another stranger in Denny Mott’s path who would help the East Africa location of Midwest Food Bank. While waiting in the airport during a layover, Denny found himself seated next to a woman having a very heated conversation on the phone. When she hung up, she looked right at Denny and said, “I need a private plane.” Denny wasn’t able to help her with this, but they did get to talking about what was going on and why she needed a private plane.
It turns out, this woman owns a company in London that produces high-end leather handbags made of crocodile skin. She was in the middle of trying to open her crocodile farm in Kenya but was running into problems with the government. As time grew closer for them to part, he told her that he was very good friends with a lawyer in Kenya (Elizabeth) that could offer some legal advice. The woman declined, but they exchanged contact information anyway.
A few days later, Denny received a call from this woman asking if she could still meet with the lawyer as she had some very important meetings with government officials over the course of the next few days and she felt she could use a little more help. She asked if Denny and Elizabeth would meet him at a restaurant in a hotel, which happened to be the same hotel Denny was staying in. They all met and determined what was needed for her to open her crocodile farm. After the meeting, she thanked them profusely and went on her way to her meetings.
A few days later, Denny received another call from her saying her farm was granted permission and she was even able to get permission for a higher number of crocodiles than originally requested. She was so thankful for their kindness and help and asked if there was anything she could do for them. At that moment, Denny thought, “what will happen to the crocodiles once they are put down?” She informed them of the process and said that everything except their skin is considered waste to her. And with this small conversation, a new plan began to take shape. They agreed that the animals shouldn’t be wasted and instead, all the meat would be donated to Midwest Food Bank. This woman grew up in the slums of East Africa and knows all too well what it means to be hungry and to never have enough. The mission and story of the East Africa location moved her so much that she willingly donates all of the meat at no cost to Midwest Food Bank.
Fresh meat is a new product for the East Africa location of Midwest Food Bank and with that comes new problems. The biggest problem is that the crocodile farm is about 8 hours away from the school systems partnered with Midwest Food Bank in Nairobi. The team needed to figure out how to process and store the meat at the farm, transfer it to the schools, and storage at the schools. The team acted fast with some large fundraising events to fund what was needed. A processing and storage plant was built on the farm, and refrigerated trucks and freezers were purchased. The freezers went to the schools for proper meat storage, and the trucks were used to transport the meat from the processing plant on the farm to the schools. The schools now have a resource for fresh meat which is incredibly beneficial to the students’ diets.