2015 RAGBRAI

Mary’s Meals raises funds to feed Malawi kids

SOLON, Ia. — While RAGBRAI riders gorged themselves on apple pie across the street and humongous turkey legs around the corner, a group of locals raised money to feed kids in Malawi.

But don’t worry: This isn’t a guilt-filled downer. There is good news to report.

Over the last few months, the local branch of a project called Mary’s Meals has raised more than $18,000 of itsĀ goal of $24,000, which will feed all the children at the Chisenjere Primary School in Malawi for an entire school year. It costs $19.50 to feed each student, including many who have lost parents to war and AIDS.

Volunteer JoEllen Ritchie said the project has gotten a good response from RAGBRAI riders, especially after the rain blew over. Just as she said that, in fact, a quartet of burly bearded riders from Cedar Rapids stopped by to take a photo with the “Hunger Hero” cutouts, which looked a lot like Superman and Wonder Woman.

As Ritchie told it, Mary’s Meals was founded by a Scotsman named Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, who loaded emergency supplies into his pickup truck (named Mary) and delivered them to Bosnia and Herzegovinia in the aftermath of the war there in the 1990s. By the time he returned home to Scotland, friends and neighbors had collected enough additional supplies to fill several more truckloads, so he drove back to the Balkans. And returned again. And again.

And the cycle continued. He founded Mary’s Meals after talking with a child who dreamed of having enough food and safe place to go to school.

MacFarlane-Barrow has visited Iowa several times and was impressed by how his project “just spoke to the hearts of the Heartland,” Ritchie said. The program’s support in the Midwest has been unusually enthusiastic.

Here in Solon, the entire town — not just a church or nonprofit — has signed up to help the school in Malawi. MacFarlane-Barrow visited the town here once last year, to kick off the campaign and again earlier this year to sign copies of his book, “The Shed That Fed a Million Children: The Extraordinary Story of Mary’s Meals.”

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