'The right thing to do'
With a lot of help from their friends, 11 members of the Abundant Joy Fellowship Church will begin a mission trip to Zimbabwe on Monday.
The members of the Tarentum church will spend two weeks in the African country, providing aid to its people, according to one of the group's leaders, Cathy Blythe.
“Twenty years ago, there was a family that moved to Tarentum from Zimbabwe,” Blythe said. “My son, Matthew, who was 9 at the time, kept saying he wanted to go to Zimbabwe and pass out peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to the children there.
“Now, 20 years later, he's going to get that chance.”
Blythe — who also will be accompanied by her other son, Daniel, and her husband/pastor, Greg, among others — said that Zimbabwe family of 20 years ago, the Makambiras, will guide the group on their trip.
“Margaret Makambira is involved with a group called Shinga Development Trust — Bread and Water for Africa,” Blythe said. “She lived in Tarentum with her family for three years, but then moved back to Zimbabwe.”
Zimbabwe has the fifth-highest AIDS death rate in the world, and almost 70 percent of the country lives in poverty, according to the CIA World Factbook.
The Tarentum group will be bringing bags of supplies — including peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches — most of the items contributed by community members, Blythe said.
“A lot of children die from diarrhea because they don't have Imodium,” she said. “So we're going to bring a lot.”
Blythe said her husband stopped in Tarentum Hardware and told them what the group is doing.
“They donated 500 packets of seeds for the agriculture program we'll be working with,” she said.
A big problem is that a lot of orphans don't have underwear, Blythe said.
“So I started a Facebook group called ‘Operation Under Gutchies,' ” she said. “We were hoping for 750 pairs; we have more than 1,000 now.
“Every time I open my door there's another bag of underwear there.”
The Tarentum American Legion donated a lot of supplies, she said, along with other people and organizations.
“It's amazing how great the community has been,” she said.
A major contribution to the aid effort is coming from two pint-sized humanitarians.
With the help of their mom Jeannie Dennis, Alyssa, 6, and her brother, Ethan, 9, made more about 350 “care bags.”
The Tarentum family filled the bags with oral-care items and some fun stuff, too.
“We put a note pad, toothbrushes, crayons, and toys” in the bags, said Ethan, a fourth-grader at Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament School in Harrison. “I gave 100 of my (toy) cars.”
Alyssa Dennis said all the hard work she put into the bags was worth it to help other children she didn't even know.
“We love them,” the kindergartner at Blessed Sacrament said.
The children also put their favorite candy into the bags; Ethan's is Nerds, Alyssa's lollipops.
“It's the right thing to do, and God would want me to do it,” Ethan said.
“I hope we can make them happy.”
R.A. Monti is a freelance writer.