Members of recently traveled to Haiti to inaugurate their seventh "Nativity Village."
The Burke parish has worked with Food For The Poor, Inc. since 1998 to help the needy of Haiti. They pioneered the village concept -- called Operation Starfish -- with the relief and development organization.
Today, more than 1,000 Haitian families live in seven villages built by the partnership. Each village provides housing, clean water, sanitation, access to education and health care, vocational training and sustainable small-businesses development.
"Operation Starfish for me has been an opportunity to introduce people to the needs of the poor," said Jim McDaniel, Operation Starfish coordinator at Church of the Nativity. "It has never been about money. It’s been about people’s hearts and changing those hearts.
"The idea here is to help people understand the nature of poverty, wherever they find it, and then to develop some compassion, some feeling, about the people who are in these conditions," he said. "These are not bad people, they’re just poor people."
The name Operation Starfish originated during the first parish trip to Haiti in 1999.
"We had just visited the families in the first houses we built, but we had also seen a horrible slum in Port au Prince, called Cite Soleil, where 300,000 people were living without clean water or sanitation," said McDaniel.
"We were very depressed," he said. "Father Martin told us the Starfish Story -- a man walking along a beach tossing starfish back into the water to keep them alive; a boy asks why bother; you can't save them all? The man picks one up, tosses it into the waves and says, 'I made a difference to that one.' At that moment we all agreed to continue our work and call it Operation Starfish."
Parishioner Theresa Danner spoke about the church's most recent trip. "The village filled me with hope," she said. "I could see the difference we made as a parish. I felt that this was the most important thing we would do with our lives."
McDaniel said the experience changes most people. "And when we develop some empathy, we see [the poor] as people much closer to ourselves. We see ourselves as part of one family, the family of God," he said.
"To act on that compassion, and that knowledge, and that awareness, and to let your heart move you to do something to make a difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate ... that difference, that something, can be anything. It can be a gift, it can be writing a check. It can be as simple as your presence."
Food For The Poor has been named by The Chronicle of Philanthropy as the largest international relief and development organization in the nation. The group provides Christian relief programs and projects to help children and the poorest of the poor by providing food, housing, health care, education, water projects, emergency relief and micro-enterprise assistance in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The accompanying 10-minute video showcases Operation Starfish.