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'Light a Candle, Feed a Child' opens eyes and opens hearts of Greensburg people

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 8:56 p.m.
Danielle Shaffer holds a little girl while visiting an orphanage in Honduras. The trip was sponsored by Bridgewater Candle Co. so that its clients like Shaffer, who owns a Greensburg boutique, could learn where some money from those sales is donated.
Danielle Shaffer holds a little girl while visiting an orphanage in Honduras. The trip was sponsored by Bridgewater Candle Co. so that its clients like Shaffer, who owns a Greensburg boutique, could learn where some money from those sales is donated.

The smells of the garbage dump were so foul that members of the mission trip to Honduras first surreptitiously swiped a line of Vick's Vapor Rub under their noses before they got off the bus.

Danielle Shaffer of Greensburg was warned not to cover her nose against the putrid odor, or show emotion, to more than 2,000 orphans and others trying to survive on scraps as they foraged alongside skinny cows, “nasty” dogs and crows.

“I had no idea, no idea, what I was about to see,” said Shaffer, 34.

Shaffer, the co-owner of Aw Else Boutique in Greensburg, was sent on the trip by Bridgewater Candle Co. The Spartanburg, S.C., company wanted to send four representatives from across the country to Honduras, to see why 75 cents from each candle they sell is earmarked to feed orphans.

“Everyone was trying to eat,” Shaffer said. “They all had machetes like we have cell phones. ... And when they see a garbage truck coming they fight each other for any scraps they could find.

“I lost it. I got so emotional I had to hide my face from them,” Shaffer said.

The horrifically memorable experience at the Tegucigalpa dump came before the group went to the Good Shepherd Children's Home to deliver 550 pounds of donated supplies.

Shaffer said the mission trip shattered her preconceived notions.

She never thought that she would feel that the kids in the orphanage, from babies to 18 years old, have it made, at least for childhood.

“The 105 children at the orphanage might have to do their own laundry and milk their cows, but they are the lucky ones. They have housing, food, a school and a church on 60 acres of magnificent land.

“I had some preconceptions of falling for an infant and wanting to take this baby home with me,” said Shaffer, who helped to paint a new dental clinic during the trip. “You just didn't know what to expect.”

Instead, she bonded with 11-year-old Ana, who was silently crying, apart from the other children. Shaffer went and stood nearby, then gently talked to the girl. They sought each other out every chance they got during the rest of the four-day visit in October.

She thought of Ana during holiday shopping, and she has such compassion for the people she met that emotion chokes her voice when trying to express her feelings about what she saw in Honduras.

The money from each candle sale is a tremendous help.

“It really makes an impact on a child,” Shaffer said. “I really appreciate it when a customer buys a candle. I thank them. Now I know firsthand who I'm helping to feed.”

The candles are one of the products Shaffer and partner Mark White carry in their women's boutique on Towne Square Drive next to Dino's Sports Bar.

The “Light a Candle, Feed a Child” program is the brainchild of the Caldwell family, who founded the Bridgewater Candle Co.

Bob Caldwell Sr. and his family began helping orphans in 1980 when their company was primarily making fragrant sachets. They loaned staff and warehouse space to the fledgling charitable organization of Rice Bowls, which led to a partnership.

“We used a sales contest between our sales representatives during the first quarter of 2012 to determine who would join us on our fall trip to Honduras,” Caldwell said by email. “The top three sales representatives from the contest were each able to bring one of their top Bridgewater dealers to join them on the trip. Aw Else is certainly one of our top dealers, so asking (Danielle) to join us was an easy decision.”

The company's charity, which has evolved into the Grace Management Group, has provided funds for more than 618,000 meals through Rice Bowls.

“One of the highlights of my job is being able to take our sales representatives and dealers to see firsthand the impact they are having on the lives of orphaned kids around the world by selling Bridgewater candles,” Caldwell said.

“It is a lot of fun to watch the light bulbs go on as they connect the dots. They come to realize that there actually are real orphanages with real kids with real faces and real names, who have tremendous potential.

“By the time our trip is over, it always seems that each sales representative or dealer has bonded with at least one child and is beginning to clearly understand the transformative impact they are having in the life of that child through their work each day,” Caldwell wrote.

Before leaving for Honduras, Shaffer took a tour of Bridgewater, and she said she came away impressed with the Christian values of the Caldwell family. This included welcoming all those going on the trip into their home for a meal.

The candles, sold for $14.99 and $24.99, undergo constant innovation, according to Shaffer.

“It's brilliant that Bob and his team have now changed the tag on the candles to include (the name of) an individual who is being fed,” she added. “It's the next best thing to being there.”

Shaffer is already collecting supplies to send for the next trip later this year. She is still debating how to do something extra special for Ana and the others at Good Shepherd Children's Home.

Rose Domenick is a freelance writer.

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