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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

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In Kids & Family

Suzanna Garr and the paper bags decorated by Ugandan kids. (PHOTO: John Ehlers)

Outpost makes connection with Ugandan children


Last year, Suzanne Garr created what will hopefully be a long-lasting relationship between Outpost Natural Foods and Ugandan children.

Garr, who is the Outpost board director, came up with the idea in November of 2012 to coordinate Outpost's Buy-A-Bag Program with a school / orphanage she was deeply involved with through a Kansas-based program called Change The Truth (CTT).

Every November and December, community members are invited to buy a decorated bag of $40 worth of organic groceries for $20 at one of the Outpost Natural Foods. Outpost kicks in the rest of the cost of the food, and the bags are then given to hungry families in Milwaukee.

The 2012 program sold a record-breaking 2,600 bags. Since 1999, Outpost's Buy-A-Bag program donated over $435,000 in food for Hunger Task Force, which distributes food at no cost to local emergency food pantries during the cold winter months.

"A thought came to me to ask if I could take some of the brown grocery bags to Uganda with me for the kids to decorate. They love to paint and draw and are very artistic," says Garr.

Outpost's director of communication Margaret Middelstadt loved the fact that the relationship transcended boundaries and that the children knew the pains of hunger. So Garr took 20 bags with her to Uganda.

"I wish I could have taken more because the kids did those 20 bags in one day. They loved it," says Garr. "My original thought was to bring something unique to the kids that they could feel a part of and help others in the process, plus it would be fun and something that they could do and relate to."

The fact the kids did not know what a brown paper grocery bag was prior to the project did not matter. They eagerly drew animals, faces, flowers, snowmen and snow on them.

"Which is funny in a way since they don't know what snow is really," says Garr.

Garr hopes to return to Uganda in December and have the kids decorate more bags. If for some reason she is unable to go, she plans to have another volunteer serve as the liaison for the project.

Garr's involvement with CTT started, indirectly, when she took a photography workshop at the Maine Media College. Another colleague, Gloria Feinstein, had taken the same course – but in Uganda – and had published a book about the experience.

"I purchased the book because it was about Africa and children, two of my passions. I also was attracted to the fact the proceeds of the book went back to the kids," says Garr.

Garr contacted Feinstein and discovered they had a lot in common and asked her how she could get more involved with kids in Uganda. Feinstein invited Garr to apply to go to a Ugandan orphanage with her group, CTT, and a team of volunteers. Garr applied and she was accepted.

In December of 2010, Garr went to Uganda with the group for two weeks and spent time at a school / orphanage called St. Mary Kevin Motherhood Orphanage in Kajjansi, Uganda.

"I fell in love with the kids and have been fundraising and bringing awareness to this foundation and the kids ever since," says Garr.

Garr returned in December 2011 and again in 2012.

Because of CTT's work, more than 30 children now receive academic scholarships for secondary school, college or vocational school.

Other improvements include brick-making supplies, a maize mill, a rainwater capture system and self-sustaining vegetable gardens.

"With our help, three meals are served each day. These standard servings of porridge are now often supplemented with fruits, vegetables and meat," says Garr.

A full-time social worker, employed by Change the Truth, now lives at the orphanage to look after the needs of the children. There's also an on-site nurse.

Musical instruments / uniforms have been provided to form a marching band.

"The band provides an enrichment opportunity for the children as well as an additional source of income for the orphanage," says Garr.

The group as also worked to provide new bedding, including mattresses, sheets, blankets and mosquito netting. Plus, a computer lab and textbook library have been established along with hearing aids and glasses to those who need them.

"At first thought, most people might think that an orphanage in Uganda is sad, but it's the exact opposite. The children of St. Mary Kevin are full of love and laughter," says Garr.

"They are so giving of themselves and anything that they have, which is very little compared to what we have here in the States, but despite the sadness of their stories, they overflow with a sense of life, love and endless joy."


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