Locally founded Stewards of Hope International and its board members are celebrating a milestone. Thanks to their supporters, orphans in Venezuela have received more than $200,000 in assistance since the organization’s founding in July 2008.
“Prior to Stewards of Hope’s involvement, the orphans barely received one meal a day consisting of watered-down soup, often with a few potatoes split among the more than 160 orphans,” said Michele Capelle of Highland, the group’s president and founder.
Stewards of Hope’s efforts began with the relationship of Capelle and Elba Herrera de Venta, a woman in Venezuela, who began “collecting” children from common dumping sites in the country and taking them in to give them food and clothing.
The two women met for the first time in 2004 when Herrera de Venta accompanied a Venezuelan preist to the U.S. for some medical treatment. Capelle, a physical therapist, participated in the preist’s care. During treatments, she became familiar with Herrera de Venta’s story and had a desire to help.
When Herrera de Venta returned to the U.S. in 2006 as an interpreter for another priest, she met Capelle once again, and Capelle’s desire to help grew even more. In the process of wanting to hold fundraisers for the needs of the orphans, it became necessary to incorporate Stewards of Hope International, a non-profit organization, to manage the money raised.
Founding of an orphanage
It all started one day when Herrera de Venta was walking in a plaza in Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela. She walked past a pile of trash and heard a crying sound. Herrera de Venta, an animal lover, thought it might be a kitten or puppy in trouble. To her surprise, she found a newborn boy. The baby was very ill and later died in the hospital with Herrera de Venta at his side. She named him Jesus.
From that day on, she began getting involved in gathering abandoned children and taking care of them. She gathered many of the children from common dumping sites, such as Dumpsters and junk yards. Initially, she brought them to her home, but she soon ran out of room.
Today, she has more than 160 children, who are taken care of by nuns on a daily basis, in the orphanages that she supports. Herrera de Venta spends her days begging for supplies for the children. She lives about seven hours from most of the orphanages.
At times, the needs of the children have caused Herrera de Venta to make desperate decisions. Over the past several years, she has maxed out her credit card (at 32 percent interest), sold her vehicle and exhausted her personal resources.
For years, the children were supported by the people in Venezuela. However, with an unstable political situation and economy there, it has become difficult to buy many basics.
An ongoing mission
In addition to sending funds for medicine, water and clothing, Stewards of Hope recently partnered with two other local organizations to have actual food products shipped to the children. Stewards of Hope purchases a protein and vitamin filled dried food product and packs it up for shipment. The NiCE (Nicaragua Christian Education) Foundation, another Highland-based charity, is a certified distributor for the food products. Missions International coordinates and covers the cost of shipping.
Two shipments of food each month are sent to the orphanages in Venezuela.
“Elba and her orphans are thrilled with the options they have with this new food that provides greater nutrition for the children,” Capelle said.
In a message to Capelle, Herrera de Venta said the children’s “eyes lit up,” when they saw the food. “They were over the moon,” she said.
Stewards of Hope has two new goals for 2016.
“Our first goal is to add another type of food to the shipments for orphans who cannot eat solid food, due to health issues,” said Capelle. “Our second goal is to increase the funds we send to pay for the water, medicine and toiletries as the cost of these most basic items continues to increase.”
Funding for Stewards of Hope International comes from monthly donors and supporters of the organization’s many fundraisers, which will include a “Bunko Blizzard” on Feb. 27 in Highland. The group will also hold a “Yard Sale Extravaganza” on June 3 at the Highland Knights of Columbus Hall, where people sign up for a space from which to sell their wares.
If you would like to learn more about Stewards of Hope, visit stewardsofhope.org or find them on Facebook.
Bunko Fundraiser Planned
Stewards of Hope International will hold a “Bunko Blizzard” on Saturday, Feb. 27 at Windows on Broadway, 401 Broadway in Highland. Entrance fee is $25. There will be snacks, a DJ, attendance prizes and cash prizes. The event is BYOB. For more information visit Stewards of Hope International’s Facebook Event “Bunko Blizzard 2016” or call (618) 363-5634.