Youths go without food to raise awareness of the impoverished

TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Sixteen-year-old MaryBeth Neil didn't sleep well Friday night.

Huddled near cardboard boxes on a grassy lawn, she tried to keep herself warm with a pink fleece blanket and her friend's black jacket that declared "I'm a Jesus Freak" on the back.

The next morning, 81-pound Corey Roets, 16, leaned against a wall. When asked how he was doing, he whispered "tired, hungry."

Nearby, several teens raked leaves. Slowly. They didn't have much energy, and Taco Bell's cheesy double beef burritos were on their minds.

None of them had eaten for 24 hours. They didn't get much sleep. But it was by choice. The teens at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church were raising money as part of World Vision's 30 Hour Famine.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people volunteer to give up food for 30 hours. They raise money, which they donate to World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization that sends money to impoverished regions worldwide.

This weekend's famine will aid efforts in Haiti, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Uganda, as well as other countries as needs arise, said World Vision spokeswoman Laura Blank. Wesley Memorial's youth pastor Kevin Grills estimates the teens at his church will raise over a thousand dollars.

But, maybe even more important, they're learning there are needs greater than their own, Grills said.

"Because of poverty, because of diseases, because of things that are totally preventable, lives are being lost," he said.

Friday night, the teens watched the movie Invisible Children, a 2004 documentary about child soldiers in northern Uganda.

MaryBeth cried as she watched it. She said the weekend has been life changing.

"We worry about what to eat. They wonder if they're going to eat," she said. "We wonder what to wear. They might not have that choice."

Her friend Blake Coulter, 14, agreed.

"It really opens your eyes to see that we really have it so good," he said. "If you have a house, you're rich."

But Grills realizes that many Americans don't fit that bill, so the group also focused on ways they could help locally.

The teens bagged nonperishable food Saturday morning. They'll hand the bags, filled with enough food for a day, out to the congregation today, hoping they'll put together several more bags on their own. Then, when they come across a panhandler, they can hand them a bag of food.

As they worked, few complained. They were tired and hungry, but they were with friends, and they knew that 6 p.m. brought a meal of spaghetti and meatballs.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Youths go without food to raise awareness of the impoverished 02/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 28, 2009 10:25pm]

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