Poway-based group’s worldwide impact expanding
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Providing an open-air shuttle and plow to help lepers in Tanzania, and medical clinics in Haiti that treated 1,900 patients are among Friends & Family Community Connection’s recent accomplishments.
The locally based FFCC, which had its genesis in 1996 and officially formed in 2002, is doing much more than food packing that many locals associate with the volunteer group.
Packing easy-to-prepare meals of rice, dehydrated vegetables, vitamins, soy and essential nutrients continue to be a big draw, with 17 events in North County over the past year that led to the six-year endeavor surpassing the 8 million meals mark. Meals now go to several countries, as well as feeding San Diegans.
But members’ humanitarian efforts are becoming more far reaching, especially in Tanzania and Haiti, said Tina Socha, FFCC’s volunteer coordinator. She emphasized every project requires recipient participation, so it is not charity, but a partnership to solve problems and improve lives.
“Here people are hungry. In Africa they are starving to death,” said FFCC founder Phil Harris. Not wanting to send meals without knowing if they were making it to their intended recipients, Harris and others traveled to Tanzania in 2007 to see the situation first-hand. Connections were made and FFCC started shipping meals overseas. From that sprung other humanitarian projects.
Socha, whose teenage son went on that trip, said they saw how the 700,000-plus living in Singida Town, Tanzania, were struggling, especially youths living on the streets because parents were dying due to AIDS or other illnesses. They decided to build a children’s center that provides a daily meal and access to medical care and an education.
“There is hope for the future if you have an education,” Socha said, adding knowing the youths are fed and cared for during the day, extended family are more likely to house them overnight since they are not a financial burden. Now, more than 1,000 children are in the program and the center has become a model that government officials want to replicate, she said. In June, FFCC is opening a similar center in Bariadi, Tanzania.
FFCC also started working with a leper colony, most recently providing a tractor and the shuttle, known as a taxi trailer, that helps the people — many of whom are missing limbs — get around and get their animals to market.
With the Hadazabe tribe of hunters and gatherers facing problems from drought and shrinking area due to new safari parks, Socha said FFCC volunteers have taught them how to plant seeds so they can grow food. Before this, they were starving and forced to eat undigested seeds found in monkey dung.
Socha said those who receive FFCC meals are children, disabled and those in temporary dire conditions. They are not for those capable of feeding themselves.
Another success story is FFCC’s water filtration program. In the Nkungi Village of 1,200 homes and 6,000 residents, every home now has a $75 filter system that means water-bourne illnesses have been eliminated and girls no longer have to miss school to fetch water, a dangerous task since they were easily attacked when walking long distances, often in the dark. Families pay a small share of the cost. The remainder is funded through donations and fundraisers here.
In Haiti, which FFCC started helping after its 2010 earthquake, medical clinics and schools have been opened. The latter includes a three-month academy that helps Haitians get life skills and prepare for higher education. For the first year after getting a job, part of their paycheck will help sponsor another student.
Socha said volunteers pay their own way for the trips. Some do fundraising. Many local organizations join in supporting or participating in FFCC projects.
Harris said part of the appeal is 100 percent donated goes to the projects, not staff costs and all involved are there with “the purest of hearts. There are there for one reason — to love and care for the people.”
For information about FFCC’s local and international projects, go to www.ffccsd.org or call Harris at 858-204-9643.
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Worldwide outreach started with Penasquitos trash pickup
One man picking up trash in a low-income Rancho Penasquitos neighborhood has turned into a worldwide effort by thousands to feed and educate the poorest around the world.
Friends & Family Community Connection is well-known locally for its food-packing events held several times a year in parking lots of churches, schools and its founder’s Poway-based business. But the organization started by Powegian Phil Harris has grown to encompass way more than that.
“It’s amazing,” Harris said when looking back over how his decision to help a local neighborhood in 1996 grew into worldwide philanthropy.
Harris said for three years on his way to work he drove by The Garden — now Canyon Rim — apartment complex. “It was clear the place was filthy with a lot of trash,” Harris said.
One day, he decided to begin his commute a little earlier so he could pick up litter before heading into work, he said. While doing so, he prayed for guidance in how to help the community. Not long after, residents asked him what he was doing there. He spoke with a mom about problems they faced and asked her to get other parents together so they could explore ways to help the children. Because of parents’ work schedules and financial limitations, children could not join sports leagues and after-school activities.
The meeting led to Harris getting some friends together to form a basketball league. But he soon realized the neighborhood’s diversity further complicated the situation.
“There were more than 21 different languages in this little 5-mile area of low-income apartments,” he said. “There were a lot of issues. They were immigrating to the United States but could not speak (English) and had job and transportation issues. They had to go shopping but did not know how to count their money.”
Soon after forming the basketball league, Harris said he realized the game rules had to be changed. Instead of the highest-scoring team winning, it only received one point. Additional points were earned for team work, number of players who made a basket, good citizenship and other factors to determine each game’s winner.
“It took it from being about talent and popularity to … (helping) the weakest. It transformed how they learned and worked together,” he said. In addition, it tackled problems with gangs based on ethnicity and warring factions back in their homelands. Drug and major family problems were addressed too. “It was about building community and teamwork among players,” Harris said.
This led to an after-school program forming, one that within three years contributed to Los Penasquitos Elementary going from among the lowest performing in the district to a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon school. Parents received literacy assistance and monthly family community events combined dinner with guidance on issues and job training.
Along the way, an increasing number of volunteers got involved and in 2002 Harris officially formed FFCC.
“It stems from my faith,” he said. “I have been blessed so much by the Lord with a wife, children, community and job. I see and appreciate the people around who do not have the same opportunities and am taking what I have been given and sharing it with them.
“It took driving through that neighborhood for three years to realize and see (the problems) … but I never took the time to stop to help,” he said. “One day I decided I’d go take a look, to help here with the garbage. From that simple act I could see what was needed and out sprung everything else.”
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Friends & Family Community Connection’s 2012 highlights
FFCC founder Phil Harris said the past year’s accomplishments include:
• Providing 1,550-plus homeless men, women and children in downtown San Diego a warm meal plus hundreds of hygiene kits, blankets and clothing.
• Holding 17 food packing events throughout North County that packed and distributed more than 886,132 meals, bringing the six-year total to more than 8 million meals. New food packing locations included Azusa Pacific University and New Jersey.
• Distributing more than 500 Thanksgiving food baskets to North County families in need.
• Helping hundreds of families through its local food distribution and food pantry programs.
• Organizing three trips to Tanzania (15 since 2007) and five to Haiti (13 since 2010), with a combined 109 volunteers.
• Conducting two medical clinics in Haiti that provided care to 1,900.
• Raising $50,000 to build, purchase and ship a 30-foot shuttle trailer, tractor and plow to Tanzania for the world’s second-largest leper colony. This gives an economic engine and financial resources to create jobs.
• Installing 9,000 water filters throughout Tanzania.
• Helping 14 students graduate from FFCC’s Haiti Academy. Twelve received sponsorships to attend college.
• Working with the University of California Davis to produce and distribute solar lights and solar cell phone chargers in Tanzania and Haiti.
• Taking a trip to explore the possibility of helping those in Afghanistan.
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