Nativity Catholic Church’s “Operation Starfish®” Donation Funds Construction of Homes and Schools in Haiti, Clinic in Honduras
COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (June 14, 2023) Nativity Catholic Church in Burke, Va., marked its golden anniversary by donating more than $429,000 from its Operation Starfish® campaign to Food For The Poor (FFTP) to support the construction of homes and the expansion and improvements at two schools in Bas Fossé, Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, the site of the church’s 13th Nativity Village. The gift also supports the construction of a health clinic serving impoverished families in Honduras.
Fr. Robert C. Cilinski presented the check to FFTP President/CEO Ed Raine on Sunday following a Mass in recognition of the church’s 50th anniversary.
“As we celebrate 50 years of service here at Nativity Catholic Church, we remember the Gospel call to serve the poor,” Fr. Cilinski said. “We rejoice in the gifts God has provided for us to share with the needy, and we renew our commitment to be His hands and feet, across the street and around the world.”
To date, Nativity parishioners and friends have made monetary donations of $8.2 million and provided $2.7 million in goods to care for poverty-stricken children and families.
The church has built more than 1,500 homes and established 13 thriving villages in various regions of Haiti. Each Nativity Village starts by addressing basic needs, including shelter, sanitation and treated water, followed by education, health care, schools, clinics and vocational training programs.
Nativity Village at Bas Fossé is an ongoing project initially announced in 2021 for the construction of 75 homes in the community. Plans include the continued construction of housing, as well as the expansion and enhancement of two schools.
Students attending classes at École Évangélique Lumière et Vie de Bas Fossé will move from a church to a new, fully equipped three-classroom block. Construction also will include an eight-unit sanitation block, an administrative block, a kitchen and a cafeteria. Construction at the École Nazaréen Libre de Meniac at Nativity Village at Bas Fossé will include a new kitchen and a cafeteria, an eight-unit sanitation block, a 6,500-gallon water reservoir and solar-powered streetlights. Transportation services will be provided at both schools.
“We are so grateful for the continued love and support that Nativity Catholic Church has shown Food For The Poor and the people we serve,” Raine said. “The intersection of the two milestone anniversaries is a beautiful reminder of the impact we can have when we remain committed to a worthy endeavor and work together to help people in desperate need.”
The need is significant in Honduras, where nearly 65 percent of the population lives in poverty and 48 percent lives below the poverty line. Operation Starfish® organizers selected El Colirio Clinic in Honduras as the campaign’s 25th anniversary project.
The clinic will provide lifesaving care to a multitude of people, including 3,500 residents of El Colirio and more than 25,000 in the surrounding areas. The 1,721-square-foot structure is equipped with two examination rooms, as well as observation, pharmacy, storage and patient waiting rooms, two male and female bathrooms for patients, and two bathrooms for medical staff.
Residents attended a ribbon-cutting and celebration at the new center on May 19.
Prior to the clinic’s construction, residents had to make an arduous, hourlong drive through mountainous terrain to receive medical care, often forgoing follow-up visits because of the difficulty of travel. Transportation was especially challenging during emergencies, with women sometimes giving birth in trucks in unsanitary conditions that jeopardized the health of both mother and child.
In addition, residents do not have access to treated water, forcing them to walk considerable distances to collect and consume contaminated water that can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, chronic diseases and possibly death without proper medical care. They also struggle with diabetes, asthma, hypertension and other illnesses that, left untreated, can lead to death.
This year’s donation also provides operating expenses for the St. Anthony Clinic, part of Nativity Village at Prolonge, Haiti, a scholarship program for students at Nativity Village schools in northern Haiti, sports equipment for several Nativity Villages in Haiti, and a medical school scholarship program that provides tuition and living expenses for qualified students from Jamaica attending the University of the West Indies.
Bringing the clinic, villages and other projects to communities in need is as gratifying for Nativity parishioners as it is for those who are receiving much-needed assistance.
“Our 25 years of Operation Starfish® here at Nativity Catholic Church have given us the wonderful opportunity to encounter the poor and to make a difference in their lives,” Fr. Cilinski said. “This grace-filled ministry has brought us all closer to Christ.”
Nativity’s Operation Starfish® campaign began with the late Fr. Richard Martin, who died from complications of diabetes in 2014.
Fr. Martin conceived the idea for the campaign in 1998, while walking his dog, Pete, on the night before Lent. Thinking about the sacrificial theme of the season, he wondered if his parishioners would be willing to forego one order of French fries or one extra topping on their weekly order of pizza and donate the savings to help those in need.
Fr. Martin posed the question to the congregation and to his delight, they raised more than $67,000 and decided to work with FFTP and build 27 homes in Haiti, the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere. The following year, Nativity officially launched the campaign as Operation Starfish®.
Two groups have branched out from Operation Starfish®: Fish4Hope, which has built three fish farm projects, and Stella Marina, which supports midwives in Haiti with birthing kits, training materials and mission trips.
“The vision and commitment of Nativity Catholic Church truly is inspiring,” Raine said. “We are grateful that they have embraced our mission to not only build buildings, but to build lives and lift people out of the cycle of poverty, and we look forward to working on other projects that bring our dream to fruition.”
Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of hungry children and families living in poverty primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, water, medicine, educational materials, homes, support for vulnerable children, care for the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.