Midwest Food Bank History
Midwest Food Bank East Africa Origins
With hunger and malnutrition being such a big problem in so many parts of the world, it’s natural to ask “how did Midwest Food Bank choose Kenya as the first international location?” There may be numerous lengthy explanations, but the simple answer is that’s where God led us to help feed the hungry and malnourished in Africa.
While living in England in 2002, Denny Mott (who in 2014 became Midwest Food Bank’s East Africa Director) and his wife Beth met Elizabeth Mutsoli, a Kenyan law student who would eventually move back to Kenya as a Government Lawyer. Through Elizabeth, they learned about living conditions in Kenya, and about how so many children suffered from hunger and malnutrition. A full ten years later, the Motts were still burdened by the lack of basic needs in Kenya. They developed a relationship with Midwest Food Bank and led an exploratory team to Nairobi in 2013.
No one on the team was prepared for what they saw. Nairobi is a large metropolitan city with an educated and thriving middle class. But it’s also home to some of the world’s largest and most notorious slums where families live in small corrugated metal huts with no running water and maybe only a single light bulb. Children eat dirt, with open sewers and garbage at every turn. The largest slums which are run by gangs and filled with drugs and home-brewed alcohol may have a million or more people living in tightly confined areas. There is inescapable disease, abuse of every kind, and a general sense of hopelessness. But there is hope! An astounding 80% of children who finish high school can find jobs and work their way out of the slums.
Within the slums, there are numerous Christian schools that serve as an oasis and safe haven for thousands of children who would otherwise never attend school. These schools are typically run by husband and wife teams who left their careers to dedicate their lives to helping children. In addition to teaching the basics, these schools expose children to the Gospel and usually feed them breakfast and lunch. School leaders estimate that the ten meals provided at school are the only meals over half the children receive each week. When the exploratory team met with 5 of those school leaders and asked, “what would you do if we could help you improve the quality and reduce the cost of your meal program?” the answer was quick and unanimous: they would add more kids.
With God’s blessings at work, the East Africa location of Midwest Food Bank was born. Elizabeth, the Kenyan law student, has become a senior Government Lawyer. She works tirelessly as our volunteer legal advisor in Kenya and serves as the Board Secretary of the East Africa location. Her sister Christine, US-educated with a Master of Science in Microbiology from the University of Texas, has been the Executive Director since the beginning. As of mid-2018, the five schools whose leaders promised to add children if we could help improve the quality and reduce the costs of their meal programs, have grown from 16,000 students in 2013 to over 23,000!
WE’RE KAPU AFRICA; NOT MIDWEST FOOD BANK
Before Midwest Food Bank arrived, there were no “food banks” in Kenya. The concept didn’t exist. Rather than risk a cultural misunderstanding with the word “bank” in the organization name, the East Africa board members decided it was safest to re-name the organization when it was legally registered. Swahili is the most prominent language in the region, so the team turned to Swahili-speaking locals who suggested the name, Kapu Africa. “Kapu” translates as a large collection basket. So, Kapu Africa is seen in Swahili as “the collection basket of Africa”, an organization to alleviate hunger in Africa.
KAPU AFRICA’S OPERATION MODEL
Operating a food bank in a region where food is scarce has unique challenges. Food manufacturers and distributors have nowhere near as much surplus as in the United States. Food donations are harder to get and are usually based on a company’s sense of social responsibility rather than a need to offload surplus—which is often the situation in the US. Because Kapu Africa is blessed with faithful corporate support, we are able to collect and distribute donations on the same day. This eliminates the need for a distribution center and the security risks that come with storing food in an unoccupied building. Kapu Africa has two vehicles: a van that can carry about 0.75 metric tons, and a 2.5-ton refrigerator truck for larger donations. Typically, we deliver larger quantities to the schools and orphanages we serve but designate central meeting places where they come and collect smaller quantities.