A talented Haitian musician has visited Huddersfield to thank staff for preventing him ending up in a life of crime.
As a young man, Jimmy Belabre, 28, resisted offers of money and guns from local gangs and stayed in school – his resolve fuelled by the daily meal he received in school and the kindness of the people from far away who made that possible.
One of this country’s most deserving charities, Mary’s Meals, supported him as a child by providing him and his chronically hungry classmates with food in school, helping him to access the education that went on to change his life.
Jimmy visited the Birkby headquarters of the UK’s largest dining club, tastecard, which raises money for Mary’s Meals.
He said: “It’s been such a great experience to come to Huddersfield and visit tastecard’s office to share my experience and story with the team.
“Growing up in a place like Cité Soleil is so difficult. When there is not enough food to eat, every morning when you wake up asking yourself the same question: ‘What am I going to eat today?’
“It makes it so hard to keep yourself positive, because you’re hungry and you need to feed your family.
“If I wasn’t being fed in school, it would have been very easy for me to become a gangster, just to be able to eat and feed my family.
“Fortunately, I had the chance to go to a school where Mary’s Meals provided food.
“That was one of the most wonderful times of my life. The meal kept me in school and I could study and keep myself positive and today I’m a not a gangster – I’m a positive influence in the community.
“It makes me feel very proud and happy and I recognise the great change that Mary’s Meals has created in my life to make me the Jimmy that I am today.
“It’s fantastic to be able to share my story with organisations such as tastecard, who are helping to contribute and make a difference by supporting Mary’s Meals.”
Each kitchen is run by local volunteers who cook massive pots of the vitamin-enriched maize porridge (Likuni Phala) and serve to the hungry children.
During their school day each child will then line up, one by one, with their plastic mug or bowl, and receive what is probably their only hot meal per day.
But Mary’s Meals couldn’t do its work without major donations and tastecard has been supporting Mary’s Meals since 2013 with £270,000 raised so far and has revealed it is to continue its partnership with Mary’s Meals for another three years.
Hannah Stewart, head of Fundraising at Mary’s Meals, said: “We are extremely grateful to tastecard for helping us reach more children with Mary’s Meals.”
Matt Turner, tastecard CEO, said: “Mary’s Meals is a charity very close to our hearts and we are proud of our contribution to the charity to date.”