“Beyond the relative islands of prosperity that are Poland’s major cities, lie impoverished regions that rival those of the Third World. Many in these regions have given up hope, but sadly it is often the children of poor families that suffer the true ravages of hunger.” This statement was the lead paragraph in an article entitled, “The Other Poland” written as the Cover Story in the May 2004 issue of Poland Monthly, the leading English language Magazine in Poland and a member of our Foundation. The introduction goes on: “Nielep, Toporzyk, Lekowo, and Brzezno – Forests abound, and the tiny villages, some of which are no more than a gathering of homes, appear tidy if not prosperous. The scenery is pastoral…pleasant. This is the type of destination that could pass for a weekend getaway. It is hard to believe that people here are going hungry.”
There are at least 2 million children from various parts of Poland in desperate need of nutritional help. We commissioned a TNS OBOP study on hunger in Poland a little over 2 years ago. The study found that 40% of Polish people don’t always have enough money for food. Based on our feeding experiences over the past three years, we think our Hot-Meal-a-Day and Fresh Milk Programs are the best way to support hungry children, their families and their schools. Our programs provide that our money is used properly, and provide a clear and transparent system of financial accountability. Our Foundation would like to afford at least one hot meal, and/or glass of fresh milk everyday of the school year to all the hungry children in Poland. Knowing this is only a dream, we decided to use our resources to develop a strong prototype program in one Polish Region. Our plan is to use this prototype program as a model for other Regions throughout the Country.
We decided to begin our program in one of the poorest Polish Regions. We looked for a Region where state collective farms were prominent during the Communist years. As a result of Poland’s economic changes over the past fifteen years, collective farms were shut down, leaving many families unprepared to deal with the new socioeconomic challenges of a market economy. It is well known that people from the Polish countryside have had the most difficulty in adjusting to the contemporary economic changes. Traditionally, farms in these regions are very small and underdeveloped leading to a farming culture marked by huge unemployment rates as high as 90%, and economic despair.
As is often the case, children are among the most severely affected by this type of poverty. Many children from these regions travel over 10 km to school every day. There have been numerous cases of children fainting during class, or eating leftovers that other more fortunate children left behind. There are many cases reported of children stealing food for their families from local stores. Children from these Regions tend to stay at home to help their parents earn money rather than attending school. This leads further to low levels of education which perpetuates the local cycle of poverty. Unfortunately, the resources of the National and Local governments are too small to provide the help needed. And in too many instances, Governmental officials ignore the hunger problem completely.
Over five years ago, I was invited to visit the Zachodniopomorski Region of Poland, which is located just a few kilometers from the German border. I wanted to get a better understanding of the problems of hunger and the needs of this particular Region of Poland. I was touched by the stories I heard, and inspired by the dedication of the people who were trying their best to help the large number of people in need. I was shocked to see hundreds of people lined up to receive their daily ration of cucumbers collected from local farmers, and provided free of charge to the needy residents. I was told sad stories of unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, and hunger that affect most of the children in these small towns and villages of Poland. I heard stories of children unable to attend school because of malnutrition, and of children unable to attend school because of hunger induced weakness. I heard of families living on 50 zlotys per month. I heard stories of unemployment reaching unprecedented levels of 90%. I saw and heard needy children asking for my help.
I made a promise that day to the people of the Zachodniopomorski Region. I promised that I would see that these unfortunate children would not be hungry again. Hence, this poor Region of Poland became the Promiseland, and the kids we feed each school day became the Promise Kids. Thanks to the generosity of Foundation member companies, we have fulfilled the promise I made that day more than three years ago.
The Hot-Meal-A-Day Program is consistent for all 13 schools in the project: The Brzezno School, Nielep School, Toporzyk School, Lekowo School, Gudowo School, Mielewko Drwaskie School, Suliszewo School, Zaransko School, Netno School, Bierzwnica School, Rusinowo School, Klepczewo School, Oparzno School, and the Swidwin Technical School. The Foundation has signed a contract each school year with Bar Samoobslogowy “Smakosz” (Promise Kids Kitchen) to administer our Hot-Meal-A-Day food services. Bar Smakosz is located in the geographic center of the PromiseLand, and the management and staff of Bar Smakosz have a special appreciation for our program, and a special love for our Promise Kids. We have been extremely pleased with the services provided by Bar Smakosz, and we intend to continue using its services.
The food is purchased locally by the Bar Smakosz staff. They take care of all arrangements related to supplying, cooking, serving, cleaning and accounting for each meal. To help insure total financial accountability and transparency, the Foundation for Corporate Social Responsibility has also signed contracts with the 13 PromiseLand Schools. In each case, the School administrator is responsible for monitoring the Hot Meal program in his school. The Administrator accounts for all meals delivered and served to the children, and reports this information monthly to the Foundation’s. The money used to conduct the Hot-Meal-a-Day Program is transferred to Bar Smakosz at the end of each month, and only after our professional accountants are satisfied with all accounting procedures and reports.
We encourage all meals to be served on a dining table with a tablecloth. We encourage all food to be served on real dishes and be sure that flatware eating utensils are always used. Children are taught serving procedures, how to wait on tables, and how to clean up after meals.
Our Member Companies have been most gracious in helping meet some of the other special needs of the Promise Kids. Some have provided warm coats and boots during the winter months. Colgate Palmolive and P&G are providing tooth brushes, tooth paste shampoo and soap to all the kids every four months. Coca-Cola, KFC, and Pizza Hut have agreed to provide food products to the Hot-Meal program. KFC provides 1% of their profits to the Hot-Meal-a-Day program.
We are delighted to report that the Hot-Meal-a-Day program has been extremely successful. Frequent reports from the schools are most encouraging, and indicate that the physical condition of the Promise Kids has improved greatly over the past two years. Although our meal is the only meal most of the children receive each day, they are much more alert, attentive to their studies, miss fewer school days, have fewer illnesses, and possess a new zest for life. The reports in some cases are staggering. School grades are on the climb, and more and more students are entering technical schools and in some cases colleges after their early school years are completed. During visits with the Promise Kids, Foundation members have found that school performances are on par with some of the most enriched schools in the country, and that music fills the school halls. Interest in school sports has been growing. Teachers, administrators, local officials and parents expressed their delight with the new positive attitudes their kids have toward school and learning.
As wonderful as this all seems, we know that if we were to stop the Hot-Meal-a-Day Program, the schools would suffer a major set back and decline. We know that the children would regress to their previous malnourished state and productive learning would cease. I must emphasize that our program is the only program available to these wonderful people. Without it, there would be little or no hope for the 2,000 Promise Kids in the Hot-Meal-A-Day Program.