Grassroots Effort to Fight Famine

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Montauk School students Lily Rasi, left, and Gracie Rasi, right, work on decorations at Gurney’s Spa and Resort with artist Aubrey Roemer. Raini Ashare photo

By Stephen J. Kotz

The situation in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria and other African countries is a bleak one with UNICEF estimating that as many as 1.4 million children are at risk of dying from starvation as famine, caused by droughts and climate change, civil war, and economic inflation, grips large swathes of the continent.

Now on the East End, a grassroots effort has come together over the past six weeks to organize a fundraiser to help UNICEF provide much needed relief to the affected countries.

“Fight the Famine,” a family event, will be held at the Bridgehampton Community House at the corner of School Street and Montauk Highway from 4 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 29.

One of the organizers, Bess Rattray of East Hampton, said she and group of other parents with children at schools across the South Fork, were spurred into action after learning in February that UNICEF had announced the famine had “the potential to be the worst humanitarian crisis since the second world war.”

“I thought, ‘Let’s have a fundraiser and let’s do it fast,’” she said. “It was an impulsive thing and I sent an email to friends at Hayground School, where my children go to school, and to other parents I know. It just mushroomed.”

The effort, she added, has taken on a decidedly grassroots flavor, with parents and their children from across the street chipping in to prepare food, decorate the hall, and make artwork that will be offered in a silent auction.

Lily de Kwiatkowski, an 8-year-old who attends the Ross School, said she wanted to help out with the event “because I feel bad for the people and the kids who don’t have that much food and clean water and houses.”

“It makes me feel happy inside my heart,” she added.

“Kids just like us are starving,” said Atlas Geirsson, a student at the Hayground School.

“I care because even if we live in different countries, we’re all human, and if we have food, they have every right to food as well,” added Madeline Grabb, a Bridgehampton School student.

The event will feature finger foods created by high school students from the Bridgehampton School’s Nutrition and Culinary program; table decorations made by nursery children at the Green School; fabric art featuring indigenous trees, birds, flowers and flags of the afflicted African countries by Hayground School students; a crafts table run by the kids from Montauk’s Camp SoulGrow; auction items and prizes procured and organized by Ross School students and students from Shelter Island; drinks and table coverings by East Hampton’s John Marshall Elementary School students and PTA;  and publicity and social media by students from Liz Bertsch and Mbachi Kumwenda’s Hayground School class. The event will also feature a DJ and dancing.

“It’s a gift to learn to give back to others at such a young age, and it’s what will make our children more compassionate people as they grow up,” said London Rosiere, Camp SoulGrow’s director.

“I’ve overhead the kids talking about the famine, and the fundraiser, on their own,” said Eric-Lynn Huberty, the mother of two children participating. “My experience is that if you give kids a problem, they fairly quickly jump into problem-solving —much more so than adults at times. They don’t internalize the trauma of the tragedy that is unfolding the way we as adults do, but they register it and immediately think, ‘Right, let’s do something about this.’”

“I have a feeling it is just the beginning,” said Naomei de Kwiatkowski, Lily’s mother. “It is beautiful how we are all coming together for this cause.”

Tickets for the event are $12 for adults and $10 for children and can be purchased at Fight the Famine’s Facebook page, facebook.com/KidsJoinHands.

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