Each day this week, we will be interviewing the people behind our Partner Charities to help you get to know them a little bit better. We are kicking things off by chatting with Kristie and Sydney O'Leary of Feeding the Orphans.
Feeding the Orphans is a grassroots organization founded in 2010 by then-10- year-old, Sydney O’Leary. FTO advocates for the fatherless of West Africa in Jesus’ name, working to first meet the immediate earthly needs of the community and then build long-term relationships that foster knowledge of Christ. FTO works in partnership with existing Christian ministries when possible, but if needs are identified that reach beyond the scope of these ministries, FTO becomes the driving force to provide for those in need. FTO serves by feeding children, providing educational grants and scholarships, drilling clean water wells, coordinating medical relief missions, and operating Esther's Hope, a job skills and mentoring program that provides education and employment to single mothers to help them find independence.
ANGELA: Feeding the Orphans was started when Sydney was just a child. Kristie, what was your initial impression of her vision?
KRISTIE: When Sydney first came to us with her idea we were in the middle of our first adoption and we were personally fundraising for that. I remember thinking to myself “This is such an amazing thing she wants to do, but we cannot help her fundraise, too. There’s just no way.” Then God nudged my heart that He’s the one doing all of it and to stand behind our daughter and her dreams and visions. So we did. And He showed up like we never imagined.
ANGELA: Did you ever imagine the organization would grow like this?
KRISTIE: Never. Her goal was to raise $500 by selling the 'Kings and Queens' shirt and we thought that would be the end of it.
ANGELA: At what point did you realize that this was more than just a kid’s fundraising project?
KRISTIE: When, within two months of a 10-year-old girl selling a t-shirt and speaking out for the fatherless, $8,000 was raised. At that point, we realized this was God moving in a mighty way. Only God can turn a simple question into a life changing ministry for thousands.
ANGELA: What have been some of the biggest challenges Feeding the Orphans has faced over the years?
KRISTIE: Some of the biggest challenges we have faced are just the vast needs in front of us every day. The girls that are prostitutes. The children that are sacrificed. The moms that feel like they have no other choice but to give up their children. The children who long to attend school, but have no means to do so. The babies fighting for their lives because they have special needs and there’s no money for medical care. And then loving those little ones, yet watching them leave their earthly home. The greatest challenge we face is knowing we can never help all of them, but resting in the hope of our Savior and that He loves each of us (and them) more than any of us can ever imagine. Sometimes that is easier said than done.
ANGELA: When you think of the work that has been accomplished through FTO, what is a particular woman or child or situation that has stayed with you?
KRISTIE: Regina. A beautiful 15 year old girl. I had heard stories of her. How she couldn’t care for herself and her siblings. How she didn’t attend school. How she was desperate. But the day we drove to her house was something I was not prepared for. I felt like I couldn’t breathe as we got out of the car. And she was cooking, but it wasn’t food. It was grass she had plucked from the field to boil for her family. Yes, grass. Only grass. And I stood there and tears poured down my face as I looked at her and her family. Hungry and hopeless. And our partner told me she felt she had no other choice other than to become a prostitute. Instead, though, God intervened and He sent FTO. He sent people to purchase FTF shirts and He changed her life. He provided food for her family and then a sponsor. And He provided a way for her to attend school. That precious girl who had so much shame that she couldn’t even look at my face on that hot August day is now a radiant, thriving, smiling teenager dreaming of being a nurse. Her life was literally transformed by a simple t-shirt.
SYDNEY: Mercy and Favor. About a year ago, we got news of two precious siblings who were fighting for their lives in Ghana. They were both severely malnourished and little Favor could barely even sit up. We immediately sent emergency medical care money and they started to make progress. A few weeks later they moved into one of the orphanages we partnered with and two weeks after that I flew to Ghana to meet these special little ones. They stole my heart the second I met them. Today, they are thriving and two of the happiest toddlers you’ll ever meet!
ANGELA: How has Forget the Frock impacted your organization?
KRISTIE: FTF has literally transformed this ministry. God founded it on a simple tshirt when Sydney was just 10 and now He’s using FTF and the sale of tshirts at Easter to transform lives all over Ghana, Togo and East TN.
ANGELA: What are some specific things you’ve been able to accomplish with the funds from past campaigns?
KRISTIE: As a ministry, we have over 600 children in our daily education and food sponsorship programs. 2/3 of those children do not have individual sponsors so because of FTF those kids are receiving an education and daily nourishment. They are going to school, learning trades and realizing they can achieve their dreams. In the end, together we are raising leaders for the next generation.
ANGELA: What are your dreams or goals for the coming year?
SYDNEY: One dream of mine is to finish Nyame Dua’s new home. We just have a little bit more to do on the upstairs and then these kids will have a place just for them. A place that’s safe and a place where they will learn all about Jesus. Another dream is to help Ho hospital in Ghana run their NICU and make sure that every tiny blessing from God is cared for and loved.
ANGELA: What would you like to accomplish with the funds from this year’s campaign?
KRISTIE: We would like to finally be able to purchase phototherapy lights for a hospital about three hours outside of the capital city. This hospital receives abandoned babies and lots of pre-term babies on a consistent basis. We have personally held some of these little ones, prayed with their mommas and loved on the doctors and nurses. They are in desperate need of these lights and we are anxious to watch FTF help provide them.
ANGELA: Speaking directly to people considering buying a shirt to support Feeding the Orphans, what would you say to them?
SYDNEY: I would say thank you so very much. By purchasing and wearing a simple shirt, you are literally saving lives. You are feeding little ones, providing medical care to kids that desperately need it and you are also raising awareness about the plight of the orphan. It’s an all around win, you get to wear a comfy shirt on Easter and support precious kiddos in Ghana, Togo and now the US.