SNOHOMISH — Landon Strickland, 18, knew Haiti was a poor country.
But nothing prepared him for the reality.
“As soon as we landed, it was eye-opening that they needed this much help,” said Strickland, a senior at Snohomish High School, and one of nine students who spent their spring break earlier this month on a service trip to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. “It’s very hard to comprehend that this is happening. I’m in America. Everything just works out. In Haiti, everything’s different.”
The trip was organized through Friends and Family Community Connection, a San Diego-based nonprofit that facilitates food packaging events to send nutritious, protein-rich and shelf-stable meals to impoverished communities, both in the United States and abroad.
Snohomish High School this year will hold its third meal-packing event for the nonprofit. The local events are organized by the Dream Dinners Foundation, the charitable arm of the Snohomish-based company.
This year’s meal-packing event is May 9. Students hope to raise $41,000 to pack 150,000 meals, which will be distributed primarily to Haiti but also to local food banks. They need about $15,000 more to meet their goal.
The spring break service trip — a first for the school — gave students a chance to see several of the orphanages where the meals they pack end up.
Nearly one-quarter of Haitians live in extreme poverty, subsisting on less than $1.23 per day, according to the World Bank. Overall, nearly six in 10 Haitians live below the poverty line.
Such overwhelming poverty is one reason for the proliferation of so-called orphanages in the country, most of which are unlicensed and primarily house children who have at least one living parent, according to research by the nonprofit Lumos and Haitian government.
The challenges faced by people who live in Haiti are many, and can seem monumental to a U.S. teenager.
But the teens said they saw more signs of happiness than despair.
“In the States, we complain if our coffee is too cold,” said Molly Studer, 17, a junior. “There, they’re just so thankful to be alive, because for some people that is a struggle. … The kids especially … were so thankful and happy for us to be there.”
The teens look forward to this year’s meal-packing event with a new perspective.
The school’s DECA business and marketing club organizes the annual meal-packing events.
Marketing education teacher Ben Doucette also spearheaded the Haiti trip and hopes to make that an annual event as well.
Other students who went on the inaugural trip were Izah Defigh, Ashlyn Fischer, Riley Gagnon, Rhaelyn Gaskins, Kalvyn McDaniel, Hallie Roberts and Keely Smith. Adults on the trip also included Rod Defigh and Donald and Sandy Stull.
Besides delivering meals, the group was able to help in other ways.
They got a taste of what it’s like to “clean” beans and rice to prepare them for cooking, such as removing rocks.
They also mixed and poured a lot of concrete for a 15,000-gallon water tank being built at the nonprofit campus where they stayed. Shepherd’s House Ministry, a Florida-based nonprofit, houses service teams and also has a school at its Haiti campus.
“It was hard, both emotionally and physically,” Doucette said of the trip. “We came back exhausted, but very fulfilled. And just an appreciation, a newfound appreciation for all that we have.”
Walking through the Boston airport on the way home, Doucette and another student passed through an automatic door.
“Both of us at the same moment, we turned to each other, and the kid said, ‘That door just opened for us.’ It just hit both of us how spoiled we are and how much we take it for granted,” Doucette said. “And it was all represented by that automatic door.”