Youth on Fire to get first-hand lesson in poverty

Kaley Cheshire and Jeni Ollis, members of Youth on Fire, move a mattress at Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa during last year’s 30-Hour Famine. Both girls are participating in the event again this year.

Special to the Times (2008)

Kaley Cheshire and Jeni Ollis, members of Youth on Fire, move a mattress at Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa during last year’s 30-Hour Famine. Both girls are participating in the event again this year.

TOWN 'N COUNTRY

Tonight, 15-year-old Morgan Dittmar won't eat. She won't surf the Web as usual. And she'll sleep in a cardboard box.

But for the Alonso High School freshman, this isn't a bad thing. It's part of her youth group's second annual 30-Hour Famine.

The event, to last until 6 p.m. Saturday, is the finale for a fundraiser for World Vision, an international organization that provides food for children living in poverty.

About 60 middle and high school students from Youth on Fire, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church's youth group, will stop eating after lunch today. Then begins the 30 hours.

The kids, in grades six through 12, will show up in the evening at church where they will see a documentary and listen to speakers. Sleeping outside and putting together bags of nonperishable food for the homeless will also help them identify with the needy.

Participants will use blindfolds, splints and slings to act out ailments including blindness and broken limbs to simulate some diseases caused by malnutrition.

It won't be easy, Morgan said. But it could be interesting.

"It not only helps us bond as a youth group," said Morgan, who participated in last year's famine. "But it helps us know what other people are going through."

According to World Vision, one in seven people worldwide doesn't have access to enough food, and more than 26,000 children under age 5 die daily due to disease, hunger and poverty.

And, said youth pastor Kevin Grills, World Vision can provide a day's worth of food for a child with $1.

Teens in the youth group have told family members and friends about their 30-hour famine and asked for pledged donations. The goal is to raise $180 per participant, so everyone helps provide half a year's worth of food.

"Every dollar they collect is a day that a child can live," he said.

But the experience, Grills said, is more valuable than the money.

"We're trying to give the kids a sense of not living in the richest country in the world," said Grills, 30. "The kids like hanging out with each other, but it's work. It's struggle, it involves prayer and it makes them think."

Joey O'Sullivan, 12, will participate in the famine for the first time.

"I've never gone without eating for that long before," he said.

Still, Joey said he doesn't mind the sacrifice.

"Kids are dying of malnutrition," he said. "And America's just sitting here, obese."

Samantha Owens, 12, shares his outlook. "I don't think it's fair that we have more than enough, and they have nothing," she said.

Understanding what's wrong with that is the point, Grills said, and doing something about it is the purpose.

"While our kids have gurgling stomachs, they will (help) feed others who have to live that reality right here in our community," he said.

Carol Dittmar, Morgan's mother, thinks it's a good idea.

"It's one thing God asks us to do, to take care of each other, the sick, the hungry, the poor, the lonely," she said.

She and her son Ryan, 20, will participate, too. Ryan and Morgan each donated some of their own money to the cause.

"It's not even about the money, really," Ryan said. "Most people just need to know what it's like to be hungry."

Helping feels right when you know what it's like to be hungry or that the kids World Vision helps would otherwise have "food that's almost inedible, water that's already been soiled," said 13-year-old Jeni Ollis.

"We step into other people's shoes to start appreciating what we have," she said. "I'm focused on the goal to help these other children who go through it for weeks at a time. We only have to go through it for a little more than a day."

David Smith is a writer who will speak during the famine about his time spent with children in South Africa.

"It's totally okay to be others-centered," he said. "Frankly, Jesus calls his church to be the life saving agency on planet Earth. And teenagers should be a part of that."

But should teenagers go 30 hours foodless?

Local licensed and registered dietician Kristie Salzer says it shouldn't hurt, as long as participants drink water and don't already have health problems.

"I've never read anything in scientific literature that says there is a medical value to fasting," she said. "But I can see why they're doing it. Most of these kids, I imagine, have never gone without food for more than several hours. You can talk about it, but to experience it can inspire them to help other people who don't have the luxury of the abundance of food that we have."

And Morgan is up for the experience, regardless of going without food and computer and giving up her bed for a box.

"To feel it makes a difference," she said. "(It's better) than just donating money to some cause you'll never see in action."

Arleen Spenceley can be reached at (813) 269-5301 or aspenceley@sptimes.com.

To donate money to World Vision through Youth on Fire's 30-Hour Famine, call youth pastor Kevin Grills at (813) 886-2536.

AT A GLANCE

How you can help

To donate money to World Vision through Youth on Fire's 30-Hour Famine, call youth pastor Kevin Grills at (813) 886-2536.

Youth on Fire to get first-hand lesson in poverty 02/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009 3:30am]

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