One Suitcase at a Time, Livermore Church is Feeding the Hungry in Haiti

Wishmee, who appeared at the orphanage in late summer, is one of an estimated 1.2 million undernourished Haitian children.

"Over 50 percent of the country's population is under 18 and a lot of those young people were affected by everything: cholera, hunger, the earthquake, poor schooling and a lack of health care," said UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormack. "Before the quake, they were already in a very bad situation."

Balch's dream for Haiti isn't all about reconstruction. Besides organizing volunteers for the rebuilding, he found a way to get the Bay Area to help feed the hungry children. Two suitcases at a time, members of his Livermore church have hand-delivered more than 50,000 nutritious meals to Haiti.

Balch's life took an unexpected turn in March, when he came to Haiti with a three-person delegation from Cornerstone Christian Fellowship Church to decide where to donate $110,000 collected for Haiti aid.

Shocked by the shoddy concrete work he found in crumbled miles of toppled buildings, Balch has returned again and again to work on rebuilding the orphanage and to teach proper construction methods.

In all, the East Bay group has packed more than 100,000 meals, many of them awaiting shipment by cargo container in February.

For the past six months, in a small commercial office building in Pleasanton, Sherri Leal has organized, planned, hosted and thrown food packing parties for any group that raises enough money to pack $250 worth of food -- enough for 1,000 meals.

The retired Bank of America executive jumped at the chance when Balch recruited her to direct California's first chapter of Kids Against Hunger. The Minnesota-based nonprofit has worked since 1999 to alleviate starvation worldwide with 13-ounce, highly nutrient meals of crushed soy, dehydrated vegetables and vitamin powder.

"Here we have no idea what starvation is all about," Leal said. "To think that someone could survive on one cup a day that cost a quarter to make just seems like the right thing to do."

At a recent packing party in Pleasanton, volunteers of all ages donned Kids Against Hunger aprons and hair nets. Two tables held food pack ingredients and spoons, scales and plastic bags.

The people formed an assembly line, adding measured amounts of each ingredient to the food bags, which they vacuum sealed at the end.

"We are fortunate that we are able to feed our kids," said Natalie Elola, who was at a packing event with her husband and son.

"It's not just a meal. It is helping to stop the starvation process," she said.

In early November, Balch returned to Haiti with nine suitcases in tow. One of those bags was bound for the Lamb Center Children's Home in Leogane.

It came at the right time. The 37 children there were down to two 55-pound bags of rice. Like many of the surrounding buildings, the center was destroyed in the earthquake, putting the youths in UNICEF tents for the past 11 months.

"Every time we see Mr. Sherman (Balch) we are grateful," said Augustine Kaleb, who helps run the center near the orphanage.

"Every time we have seen him, he has brought us food."

Contact Robert Jordan at 925-847-2184.