Experiencing the thankfulness | VailDaily.com

Experiencing the thankfulness

Veronica Whitney
NWS Hunger1 11-27 MK

Every day while they lived in Africa, about 20 people came to Peter and Jane Brandes’ doorstep begging for food. In Tanzania, where they were volunteers for one year, the Brandes of Eagle saw children dying of malnutrition, women cooking soup with grass and people eating rodents.

“It sounds like Charles Dickens, but it’s true,” said Peter Brandes. “When we were there, there was an intense famine.”

In 2000, the Brandes and their two children, who were 10 and 8 at the time, lived in the town of Haydom, Tanzania, as volunteers for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Famine had been an ongoing problem in Tanzania.

“When we arrived, the region was decimated by drought,” Peter Brandes said. “Now, about 4,000 people are dependent on food distribution to survive.”

To give thanks and to raise money and food for famine victims in Tanzania, the Brandes and other residents in the valley decided to have an alternate Thanksgiving Thursday. Some swapped a powder day on the mountain for a one-mile walk across Bull Pasture in Eagle.

“We’re still going to eat turkey, but it’s a great reminder of how much we have here.” Peter Brandes said.

Walk for food

About 60 people from all over the valley attended the one-mile benefit walk for hunger relief. The crowd gathered at the Eagle Town Park with donations of food and cash. About $2,000 raised will go to purchase maize, the primary food source in Tanzania. And the food will stock the Salvation Army food pantries in Eagle County for Christmas.

“That’s a lot of money in Africa,” Jane Brandes said. “A contribution of $20 can buy 220 pounds of maize in Africa, and that could feed a family for a whole month – and families are large there. Most families include 10 people.”

The diet of the average child in Tanzania consists of thin porridge in the morning and thick porridge in the evening, Jane Brandes said.

“When you think about what this country will throw away today,” Peter Brandes said, “you can feed a whole country there.”

The Brandes lived on a hospital compound during their stay in Tanzania and said dozens of people showed up every day asking for food.

“They totally live hand to mouth,” said Peter Brandes, who is a paramedic supervisor with the Eagle County Ambulance District.

An alternate Thanksgiving

Thursday’s one-mile walk followed an opening prayer by Jeff Hanson of the First Lutheran Church in Gypsum. The route was marked with balloons and there were several stops to read parts of the Bible. The event was sponsored by the Eagle Valley Chamber of Commerce, the First Lutheran Church of Gypsum, the Community United Methodist Church and St. Mary’s Parish.

Nine-year-old Cameron Wasmer of Minturn came to the walk with her father, Michael, and their dog.

“I think people should have this kind of walk once a month to be able to send food over there,” Cameron said.

“This is a day of abundance for us, so we wanted to remember those who don’t have food,” said Gail Cameron-Britt, director of Rural Resort RSVP, which stands for Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. Cameron-Britt was one of the organizers of the walk.

Michael Wasmer said he decided to bring Cameron to the walk to experience another way of giving thanks.

“I wanted the kids to experience the thankfulness, otherwise, it’s a food and football holiday,” he said.

While conditions in Tanzania were marginally better last year, 2003 has once again brought drought and famine to the Rift Valley surrounding Haydom.

“Sometimes, there’s more relief money for AIDS education than for food,” Peter Brandes said.

When the Brandes came back to the United States in 2001, they said it was disturbing.

“In this country we’re choking in excess,” Jane Brandes said.

After living in Tanzania, Brandes said her children are very socially aware.

“We try to stay in touch with what is going on in the world,” she said. “I hope they grow up having a heart for the poor people.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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