Food for the Poor gives students real look into poverty

Students at Saint Andrew's School in Boca Raton got a glimpse Friday into the reality of poverty: not everyone wakes up in a bed with a roof over their head.

"It makes me feel really lucky," said Talia Shusterman, 11. "We have a lot of stuff that everyone else doesn't."

Food for the Poor, an international relief organization based in Coconut Creek, partnered with volunteers at General Motors to erect at the school a model wooden house — usually built for poor families in Jamaica.

Officials with the nonprofit say such events help keep the spotlight on the poor in nearby nations who suffer every day, not just when disaster strikes.

"Part of our work is to constantly remind people that beyond disasters, poverty is an everyday reality," said Paul Kane, 47, a manager at Food for the Poor.

The organization worked heavily in Haiti following the devastating earthquake there. Kane said although that was more than two years ago, support for the organization has remained steady.

"The economic downturn has had a challenging impact, but people are still aware there are those that have even less," he said.

"We do have a tendency to forget," said GM volunteer Joyclyn Waters of West Palm Beach. "It's a great opportunity to shock us back into reality. There's a lot of work to be done. We just have it so well."

And this realization surpised the students at Saint Andrew's.

"Several people have to live in this house," said Shusterman. "The houses that they make are really small … I didn't know it was this bad."

The houses are usually inhabited by six to eight family members.

"This house they're building is smaller than our classroom, let alone to compare it to their own home," said Jason Glick 30, a fifth-grade teacher at the school. "It's a stark wake-up call to see that there are people in the world, not too far from our home here, that are struggling every day."

The replica home will remain on campus for a week.

Kane asked the students a series of questions to help them realize the things they take for granted.

When he asked the fifth graders if they had woken up in a room with air conditioning and clean running water, every student raised their hands.

"It's our hope that at a young age they can understand that sometimes people are born into circumstances way beyond their control," Kane said.

The organization works in 17 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, assisting the needy not just through housing, but through feeding programs, school supplies, orphanages and clean water projects.

In 2011, Food for the Poor built 6,200 homes and to date has provided more than 75,000 housing units.

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