It Takes a Village


By Sarah Sekula, published in Central Florida Lifestyle Magazine

Fat drops of rain were pounding down on the rust-colored mud in Malawi. It was a day in Mgwayi village that most would prefer to spend indoors. Yet, there were dozens of children outdoors waiting in line with empty bowls in their hands. Their tattered clothes, now wet, hung from their small frames. They could certainly tolerate the deluge, though, because at the end of the line there was a reward: hot porridge.

Stacey Farmer, a physician’s assistant at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, was watching the scene unfold. She, along with a team of volunteers, had come to serve in Malawi with Children of the Nations, a non-profit organization with an office in Orlando. After suffering the loss of a miscarriage earlier that year, Stacey and her husband, Mario, wanted to do something to take the focus off of that and traveling to Malawi was the answer.

Now, in this small village, she was holding up a poncho to escort children to nearby porches. That’s when it hit her. For many of these youngsters, this would be the only meal of the day.

“When we saw the children living in these conditions, it broke our hearts,” Farmer says. “We asked God why he wanted us to see this. He gave a clear answer: that it breaks His heart too, and that everyone can do something to help.”

So they did.

When she got back to Central Florida, without wasting any time, Stacey and Mario focused their efforts on filling one of the basic needs that the children lacked: food.

“We learned that anyone could organize a group of people and package dehydrated meals for only .25 a meal and have them shipped over to children in need through COTN,” she says.

So, she spread the word. Summit Church offered a venue at its Herndon campus off of east Colonial Drive. And one Saturday in June it all came together. Seventy five volunteers showed up, everyone from 5-year-olds to 80-year-olds.

“I was touched to hear how creative some people got to raise the funds for the meal packaging,” Farmer says. “There was one little girl who set up a lemonade stand and proudly brought in all of her earnings in a plastic baggie to donate to the cause.”

Assembly lines were formed and scoops of dehydrated protein/chicken powder, lentils, rice and vegetables were put in baggies, sealed and boxed up; ready to be shipped to Malawi. Altogether, they beat their goal of 10,000 meals; in fact, they raised enough to package 16,000.

“It was such a humbling feeling to look around the room and see the community come together, working in perfect harmony with perfect strangers, to create bags of meals for hungry children half way across the world from us,” Farmer recalls. “There is no other way to describe it except that it was God at work, and it was his perfect plan.”

After seeing what devastating conditions that Malawians are living in, it was very evident to Stacey how privileged, yet how wasteful Americans can be.

“I made a vow to myself, and with God, that if I ever had the opportunity where there was a group of people buying me gifts for some occasion, I would rather have that money go toward those who need it so much more,” she says.

Shortly after, she fulfilled that promise when she found out she was pregnant with a boy. For her shower she asked attendees to bring personal hygiene “smile packs” to be sent over to the children in Malawi.

Sometimes, Farmer says, wanting to help others can feel overwhelming since there is such a great need out there. “However if we all start by contributing toward something small, God will do the rest and turn it into something way bigger than you could ever imagine,” she says.

Help feed children in need. Schedule a meal packaging event of your own.
Or, visit one of COTN’s ministry sites by signing up for a Venture trip.

Call Laura Cook at 352-250-2730 or e-mail her at