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Local teens go on hunger fast to benefit Haiti

BRADENTON — Teenagers from Palma Sola Presbyterian Church youth group will experience a 30-hour taste of what 1 billion people on earth go through each day without end — hunger.

This weekend, the youth group is participating in World Vision’s 30-Hour Famine fundraiser with proceeds benefiting relief efforts in Haiti.

“Our youth group has always had this mission of feeding the hungry,” said Cori Rigney, who leads the church group with her husband, Ben. “I think the kids get a lot out of it, too.”

The youth group plans to raise $1,000. As of last count, $400 had been raised, said Rigney.

The teens will go without food for 30 hours beginning Friday. They will consume only liquids.

Their fast will be two-fold. During those 30 hours, they will have a lock-in at the church and focus on the local hunger situation, collecting canned food from area neighborhoods to benefit Our Daily Bread, a local food bank. They will also make baby blankets for All Children’s Hospital and participate in games and a worship service to get their minds off food. The event will end with a “break-fast” meal.

In all, there are more than a half-million teenagers nationwide participating in this year’s fast. Collectively, World Vision hopes to raise $12 million from the effort.

Palma Sola has been involved in the 30-Hour Famine for at least six years, Rigney said.

Church member Michael Harmon, an 11th-grader at Manatee High, has been participating in the fundraiser for four years. He said it gives him a better perspective on those who go without a decent meal.

According to World Vision, a Christian relief and development organization that aids nearly 100 countries, 1 billion people in the world don’t get enough to eat. In the United States, 35.5 million people experience hunger or are at risk of hunger. And with the devastation in Haiti, an entire country is in need of food.

Hearing the stories of how children die every day from lack of food around the world, 13-year-old Emily Higvee was motivated to help. This is her second year participating in the 30-hour Famine with Palma Sola Presbyterian.

“It shows you it isn’t all about us,” Higvee said. “It’s nice to help others, especially locally.”

Though the hardest part of the fast is the last few hours — that’s when hunger really sets in — Harmon said it’s worth it.

“It feels really good knowing that you’ve changed someone’s else’s life,” he said.

Just last weekend, 16 youths from Bradenton’s Trinity Lutheran Church took part in the 30-Hour Famine. They raised about $1,000, said youth director Sondra Lee.

“It was very thought-provoking,” Lee said. “I know they walked away very blessed.”

Local children have been active in raising money for Haiti relief efforts.

School officials during Monday night’s board meeting announced the Manatee County School District’s “Hope for Haiti” campaign had collected $38,000 and presented a check to the Manatee County Chapter of the American Red Cross.

“This campaign has been tremendously successful for helping our neighbors in Haiti,” said schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal, who added that the effort was an example of the district’s global outreach.

Grateful for the contribution, Red Cross spokesman Tracy Vanderneck thanked the board for the donation.

“I’m overwhelmed by this and I want you to know how much this means,” Vanderneck said.

Fundraising efforts have included car washes, hula-hoop marathons, walk-a-thons, loose change collections at elementary schools and general donation efforts, said school spokeswoman Margi Nanney.

“Every school participated in this relief and recovery effort and with several hundred Haitians in our school district, we really want to continue this support,” Nanney said.

—Staff writer Natalie Neysa Alund contributed to this report.

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.