From Our Executive Director
Update for June 2023
Evidence that We're on the Right Track
A pair of recent articles by a leading Honduran newspaper El Heraldo ("The Herald") confirms two very important facts for us: (1) Daily school lunches definitely transform the lives of school-aged children, and (2) the need for the Lunches for Learning program in Honduras continues to grow and be more significant each year.
The primary point of these articles is clear - the Honduran government simply does not provide daily school lunches at all, and the poorest children suffer the consequences. Lunches for Learning is standing in this gap for the kids in L4L-sponsored schools, but a majority of the children in Honduras are not receiving any school lunches at all. The result of this failure by the Education Ministry is also clear - kids continue to drop out of school all across Honduras in order to search for food and survive each day.
One of the key findings presented here is that the Honduran government has record of 250,985 students enrolled in schools for 2023. Going back to 2018, that number was 276,377. The number of Honduran kids in school has essentially dropped by 10% over the past five years.
In one of these articles by El Heraldo, it is stated that while the government "hopes" to enroll 2.2 million children in schools across the country, more than 1.1 million children are "outside the country's educational system". This means that for every student actually attending school in Honduras today, there are more than 4 children who have dropped out of the school system entirely.
The solution for the children of Honduras is simple, and is addressed by the following quote from El Heraldo:
"... increasing the number of students could be achieved if the Ministry of Education improves its planning and complies with something vital: the delivery of school meals" (emphasis added).
Your involvement with Lunches for Learning is absolutely transforming the lives of the children attending L4L-sponsored schools. They are healthy, they are learning and progressing toward graduation, and they have hope for a better future - all because of your support as an L4L sponsor or donor. While there are many children we still need to reach, please know that you are absolutely making a difference!
The Safety Net in the USA
In the US, more than 30 million children receive free-or-reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school every single school day. In Honduras ... that number is zero. Many Americans do not realize just how deep and wide the safety net for US kids really is. The free school lunches are just one component - and the safety net includes state-funded programs, federally-funded programs, and also privately-funded programs in most communities in the US. There is no safety net in Honduras at all. As a Honduran school child, you either take lunch to school with you ... or you don't eat that day. If your family has no food at home - and we can easily explain why that situation exists for so many - then you must choose to either attend school on an empty stomach or leave school to search for food to survive that day. The next day, the decision is exactly the same. L4L offers a chance for these kids to remain in school by providing them with a healthy lunch at school. They not only receive the nutrition their growing bodies and minds need, but they are also able to remain in school long-term.
The good news is this: You are the only safety net for Honduran kids in L4L-sponsored schools, and your support is making a tremendous difference. And as you can see from the information provided above, there are many, many more kids we want to reach with this life-changing school lunch program.
The Year Ahead of Us
The kids in Honduras are now in the middle of the 2023 school year that started in February.
Lunches for Learning has approached the current 2023 school year with a great deal of hope. Our sponsors and donors have continued to be generous in their support, and we anticipate sharing some exciting news in the near future as a result of this generosity. This year represents our 19th consecutive school year serving the kids of rural southern Honduras, and the legacy begun by Ron Hicks back in 2004 is going strong!
The cost of food in Honduras remains a good bit higher than what we've historically seen. We are currently seeing the highest food costs in our 19-year history, a full 22% higher than our pre-shutdown baseline food costs. Higher food costs, along with continued uncertainty regarding where our economies might be headed in 2023 and 2024, require that L4L proceed with caution when it comes to expanding into new communities - something we quite honestly would prefer to be more aggressive about. Our Board of Directors is constantly surveying the financial landscape to determine the ideal time to resume the expansion we experienced prior to the Covid lockdowns.
A link to the online version of one of the aforementioned El Heraldo articles is included below. If you want access to an English translation of this article, and if your web browser is not able to automatically translate the article for you, please contact me and we can get you a copy of the article in English. If I can help elaborate more on the information provided in this update - particularly regarding the reasons for the abject poverty in Honduras and the growing need for the L4L program in the region - please reach out to me so that I can help answer your questions.
Phil Dodson, Executive Director
Have you ever considered what it would be like if you had to walk for an hour each morning across a rugged mountain road just to attend school for the day, only to be faced with having to walk another hour at the end of the school day to get home? Or what if you had to send your kids to school on an empty stomach each morning because you had no food? For the kids of rural Honduras, this is their reality every day. Honduras is among the poorest nations in the world with much of the population living below the poverty level, earning less than $2 per day. However, statistics show that a child who earns at least a sixth grade education has hope for breaking the cycle of poverty because he or she will learn basic reading, writing and math skills that open future doors. This is the foundation of the Lunches for Learning mission.
Lunches for Learning exists to break the cycle of poverty in rural Honduras by providing a healthy lunch to school children every school day at their school; thereby allowing these children to stay in school so they can complete their education and enter the workforce as literate individuals.
If you would like to make a difference in the lives of these kids in Honduras, we invite you to consider becoming a school sponsor. Our School Sponsorship page will explain more, or you can contact us to discuss what a school sponsorship involves - including opportunities to support a specific group of kids and develop long-term, on-going partnerships with the community you - or your organization - support as a sponsor.
Lunches for Learning History
Sometimes, significant decisions are made when they are least expected. In 2004, Ron Hicks was presented with an extraordinary choice while on a trip through central America. Waiting for a border crossing between El Salvador and Honduras, Ron experienced first-hand a multitude of poverty stricken children. One little nine-year-old girl happened to make eye contact while begging for money and she became the catalyst of a series of choices made by Ron. It was a moment that created a movement.
Times were hard for this child, just as they continue to be for many children in this poor, rural region in Southern Honduras. When you come from a household of hungry people, you have to beg, and this little girl was begging at the border crossing into El Salvador for her and her family. There is not a lot of hope in this environment. Most people who travel this road are in a hurry to get somewhere else. Many become hardened by the poverty and suffering. Ron Hicks passed through, gave her a couple of coins, and moved on. But Ron was haunted by her memory.
Ron returned home to the United States, still struggling with his choice to turn this little girl away. He began to think about what to do and concluded that his only choice was to return to Honduras, cross the border in the same location and try to find this little girl. He didn't know yet how he could help her, but he was determined to find a way.
After a great deal of effort, he returned to Honduras and located this child and her family living in a small shack in El Amatillo, Honduras. This little girl's name is Anabel (pronounced "Annabelle"). He spoke with the family and Anabel herself through an interpreter and soon learned the families in this rural town were also faced with a choice – the choice to either send their children to the streets, begging for money so they could buy food, or to send them to school for an education and hope for the future, but with an empty stomach because there was no money to feed them.
With a sense of optimism and the help of Messiah Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Alabama, Lunches for Learning began its mission to break the cycle of poverty in this forgotten part of Central America. Lunches for Learning helped Anabel find a way back to elementary school by providing her and her classmates a nourishing lunch at school. From this small act of encouragement, hope has grown.
Anabel's school was the first school to receive lunches through the Lunches for Learning program. Anabel, like hundreds of students since, completed her education - with the help of Lunches for Learning - and graduated. She is now an independent young woman, living and working in her home town of El Amatillo with a bright future ahead of her.
The Lunches for Learning program was created in 2004 and incorporated in 2005 as a 501(c)(3) and with it, a tradition of hope, empowerment and dignity arose. Today more than 2,000 children are fed a nutritious lunch at 46 rural kindergarten, elementary and middle schools in the Valle District of Honduras. With the strength of God and the support of strategic partners, Lunches for Learning hopes to continue breaking the cycle of poverty in rural Honduras.
Remembering Our Founder
It is with a profound sense of fondness and gratitude with which we remember our Founder, Ron Hicks. He died peacefully in his home in Montgomery, Alabama on February 8, 2019.
Board of Directors
Ron was a true visionary ... a man who saw suffering in the eyes of a young Honduran girl in 2004 and was driven by his generous heart and unwavering determination to create a ministry that continues to pursue his vision of breaking the cycle of poverty in that region of the world. He cared deeply for the people of Honduras. The entire Lunches for Learning family will miss Ron terribly.
Our prayers are with his wife Elise, daughters Krista and Sondra, and the entire Hicks family as we celebrate the life of a great man who impacted so many others' lives with his kind heart, determined nature, and generous spirit.
Read about Ron's Journey
"A life lived for others is a life worthwhile."
Kristi M. Holzimmer, Montgomery, Alabama (Chair)
Agency Manager, Fidelity National Title Insurance Company
Jeff Bohman, Montgomery, Alabama (Vice-Chair)
Retired, Former Vice President of Warren Averett Technology Group, LLC
Michael Picchi, Roswell, Georgia (Treasurer)
Chief Financial Officer of East West Manufacturing
Kay Love, Roswell, Georgia (Secretary)
Municipal Operations Consultant, Georgia Municipal Association (GMA)
Jim Coyle, Roswell, Georgia (Chair Emeritus)
Founder and CEO of MediStreams, Inc.
Jack Graham, Montgomery, Alabama
Retired Senior Director, GlaxoSmithKline
Steve Gulledge, Montgomery, Alabama
Founder, Continental Brokerage Corporation
Theo Keyserling, Roswell, Georgia
Founder and Managing Director, Meridian Group Partners
Joe Murphey, Marietta, Georgia
Attorney and Founder, Murphey's Law Firm, LLC
Ace Necaise, Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Retired Engineer, Singing River Electric Cooperative
Bill Rivers, Canton, Georgia
Craig Simons, Roswell, Georgia
Retired Electrical Engineer and Entrepreneur
Lunches for Learning Staff
Phil Dodson, Executive Director
Phil Dodson joined the Lunches for Learning team as Executive Director in 2016. His previous experience included serving as Development Director for North Georgia United Methodist Camp & Retreat Ministries in Atlanta from 2006 to 2016. As a 1986 graduate of LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia, Phil began his career in higher education, serving three different colleges in the Admission and Financial Aid arena. In 1997, he transitioned to the credit and financial services industry where he served in Client Relations roles with Total System Services in Columbus, Georgia, and Transunion in Atlanta before returning to the nonprofit sector in 2006 with North Georgia Camp & Retreat Ministries. Phil and his wife Tracy live in Cleveland, Georgia. They have three adult children: Megan, age 26; Mia, age 24; and Jimmy, age 21.
Mary Lou Monaghan, Operations Administrator
Mary Lou (ML) joined the Lunches for Learning team as Operations Administrator in 2015 after serving as a Senior Manager, Government Affairs, and Association Manager at National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) for 16 years. ML earned her Business Management degree from the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and the University of West Florida in Pensacola. She is originally from Buffalo, NY, and now resides in Alpharetta, GA. She can be contacted directly at 678.232.7941 or click on her photo to send her an email. ML is pictured with her family; son DJ, daughter-in-law Megan (center), grandson Logan, daughter Amanda (left), and daughter Kaitlin (right). ML also has a new granddaughter Elizabeth Rose (not pictured yet).
Ramón Romero, Manager of Honduran Operations
Ramón currently serves as general manager of the Honduras operations. He is a teacher by profession and even spent 15 years as a teacher at a Lunches for Learning school, Romulo Alvarado in the El Caragual community. He also serves as an English professor at the National Pedagogical University in Nacaome during the evenings each week. Ramón holds a Master's degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua. After serving as a teacher in an L4L-sponsored school, Ramón has seen the impact of the L4L program first-hand. He was already teaching at Romulo Alvarado when the L4L program came to the school in 2013, so he witnessed the increased enrollment, improved health, and enhanced learning ability of the students there as they began receiving daily nutritious lunches. The increased enrollment allowed the school to eventually add 7th, 8th and 9th grades, which dramatically expanded the students' educational opportunities.
Ramón and his wife Angie are pictured here with their three children Stefania (15), Heysel (6), and Ian (20 months).
Jessica Gonzalez, Manager of External Relations, Honduras
Jessica studied at Jose Cecilio del Valle University in Tegucigalpa. Jessica attended elementary school at the Andrea Gonzalez Elementary School in El Amatillo, which is the very first school in the Lunches for Learning school lunch program. Jessica has worked with Lunches for Learning over the years in a variety of capacities, which include translating during business appointments and administrative assistant duties. Jessica understands first-hand how important Lunches for Learning is for the children in Honduras and is so proud to be part of this amazing program that is helping the children of Honduras to have a better future.
This photo shows Jessica with her husband Cesar and their three children Cesar Issac (18), Daniela Ivonne (15), and Angely Gabriela (11).
Juniors Ortiz, Honduran Operations Supervisor
Juniors (pronounced "Junior") was born in Tegucigalpa and moved with his parents to Nacaome, in the Valle Department, at the age of two. He continues to live in Nacaome as do his mother and younger siblings. He received his primary education in a bilingual school, Jose Trinidad Cabañas. He studied through ninth grade in the Technical department of the Terencio Sierra school in Nacaome, then obtained his Technical Bachelor's degree in Computing in Choluteca. Juniors is proud to be a part of this incredible program that is providing a better future for his fellow citizens in the Valle region of Honduras.
Juniors is pictured here with his fiancée Isis and their 1-year-old son Lucas.
The Lunches for Learning Team
June of 2019 was the first time our entire team had been together in Honduras in quite a while.
It seemed an appropriate time for a team photo.
Front row, left to right, are Juniors Ortiz, Mary Lou Monaghan, and Phil Dodson.
Back row, left to right, are Jessica Gonzalez and Ramón Romero.