A Bible story favorite is the story of Jesus feeding thousands with just few a loaves of bread and a couple of fish…fish, not whales! “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, ….divided the two fish…And all ate and were filled.” Mark 6.30-44 WOW!
For close to a decade, pennies have been blessed and turn into thousands of dollars that roughly provide 5000 bowls of porridge for young malnourished patients at the Cooley Pediatric Clinic in the small village of Papoli, Uganda. How does this happen? It’s an annual miracle!
During lent, the seventh grade students of St. Mary’s Episcopal Day School in Tampa lead a Pennies for Papoli Drive to raise money to support the clinic. Their goal is to provide meals for the clinic for an entire month. The 13-year-old students make a presentation in chapel for the Pre-K through 8th grade school of 450 students.They put reminder stickers on mite boxes and distribute them to the school body. Some students anticipate the annual event and have been collecting pennies throughout the year. Towards the end of lent, the seventh graders gather the containers and carry them to Publix, who counts the coins for no charge. Afterwards, they reward the grade with the largest donation with a Papoli Play Time including games using the banana leaf balls made by children in Papoli and lively African drumming. The money is sent to Village Partners International who transfers it to Papoli where it is used to buy food and supplies to support the patients at the children’s clinic.
Back to the miracle, as the seventh graders dump out the mite boxes stuffed with pennies and random game tokens and even a few paper clips, they also reveal dimes and quarters and crumpled dollars! There are always a few anonymous hundred dollar bills! In the end, the “pennies” always equal over $3000! The miracle literally unfolds under the watchful eyes of teenagers. From their excitement, you would think they were the hungry children receiving food from the donation. And from these “pennies,” a malnourished child suffering from a region’s drought is brought back to health to grow, to play, to study, to work, and to love.
Note: In July 2014, St. Mary’s Episcopal Day School teachers Linda Brown Boza and Jean Bauer visited the Cooley Clinic in Papoli, Uganda. They were witnesses of the system where brothers and sisters often carry their malnourished younger siblings to the clinic and drop them off on their way to school. The older sibling will get a meal at the school and their younger siblings will be cared for, nourished, and bathed during the day at the clinic while their parents toil in the fields to bring life back. The number of patients at the clinic correlates with the amount of rain. The people of Papoli are proud and hard-working. The Ugandan workers at the NGO PACODEF (Papoli Community Development Foundation) visit the village huts to build trust with the families and encourage them to send their children to the clinic when they are in need. PACODEF is largely supported by Village Partners International, and PACODEF helps support Papoli’s pediatric Robert Cooley Clinic, the adult Jay and Janice Jester Clinic and the Dr. Sylvia Campbell Primary School.
– Linda Brown Boza