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Starving for a cause

Church youth to fast for 30 hours to help Zimbabwe

Holding empty bowls, Oxford Free Methodist Church’s youth group, known as the O-zone, is planning to go 30 consecutive hours without food. Flip to Page 8 to learn why and see how you can help. Front row (from left): Aaron Reynolds, Joel Alexander, Ethan Matteson and Hannah Alexander. Middle row (from left): Jacob Barrieault, Darren Cherniausky, Emma Farmer, Olivia Zhang, Rachel Alexander and Alec Cherniausky. Back row (from left): Stephen Reynolds, Jenna McDonald, Tammy Cherniausky, Jeff Cherniausky, Andrea Neeson, Ed Neeson and Shawn Hopkins. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
February 13, 2013 - Oxford Free Methodist Church's youth group is planning to abstain from eating for 30 hours straight Feb. 22-23 in the hopes of feeding 5,000 people in Africa.

It's part of World Vision's 30 Hour Famine, an event that involves hundreds of thousands of students across the United States and around the world learning about hunger, raising money to help feed the hungry, then going hungry themselves.

The O-zone, as the youth group is known, has set a fund-raising goal of $5,000, all of which will be used to feed hungry adults and children in the famine-stricken country of Zimbabwe.

"It's a dollar a day to feed one person, so for $5,000, we could feed 5,000 people for one day," said Jeff Cherniausky, one of the leaders of the O-zone, which consists of 13 young people, ranging from sixth through 12th grade, who meet every Wednesday.

Folks who wish to help out by making a donation can send cash or checks to Oxford Free Methodist (790 S. Lapeer Rd.) or by visiting and searching for the church.

"We're trying to get the kids in that mindset to think about others and to help others," explained Tammy Cherniausky, Jeff's wife and fellow youth group leader. "It's just basically to open the kids' eyes to other people's needs. I think they get so caught up in everyday life and technology, it's easy to forget about others."

"It's our goal to get the kids to realize how fortunate we are and how much need is out there," said Jeff, who noted it was the kids who chose to help Zimbabwe.

"Zimbabwe isn't a country most people know about or think about," said Hannah Farmer, a member of the O-zone and a freshman at Oxford High School. "It was just one of those countries that we figured gets overlooked."

Approximately 1.4 million of Zimbabwe's inhabitants are suffering from the Third World nation's continued famine.

"We're so isolated we can't even comprehend the need that's out there," Tammy said.

Famine is a widespread scarcity of food caused by several factors such as crop failure, population unbalance and government policies.

According to the Australia-based Future Directions International, Zimbabwe used to serve as the bread basket of the African continent, but constant droughts over the past decade have decimated the country's corn crop, forcing it to rely on food donations and imports for survival. Government authorities are unable to afford implementing irrigation methods such as water reservoirs and cloud seeding.

But it's not just the drought that's caused Zimbabwe's famine. The government's land reform program in the late 1990s contributed by taking land from white Zimbabwean farmers and giving it to black Zimbabwean government supporters, according to Future Directions International.

Significant reductions in crop output resulted because the new farmers lacked the sufficient know-how and experience, and some of them were planting crops not suited to the country's climate.

The O-zone's 30-hour famine will begin at 12 a.m. Friday, Feb. 22 and end at 6 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23.

This will be Farmer's third famine event.

"It gives you a feeling of accomplishment, of actually helping someone," she said. "We're talking about a teen group that's willing to give up their Friday and Saturday, and not eat because they care about these people.

"There's a lot of people (who do things like this) because they want the recognition and to feel like a good person, but we actually care about these people and we want their country to get better. If anyone would like to join us, they're welcome to."

To sign up for the 30 Hour Famine, please call the church at (248) 628-1203.

During the event, members of the youth group will collect nonperishable food items for Oxford-Orion FISH, go bowling at Collier Lanes, then head back to the church for devotional exercises, prayers, movies and games like floor hockey and dodge ball.

"We'll end it with a big breakfast in the morning," Jeff said.

Taking part in this 30 Hour Famine is just another way for the church's youth to learn about and experience the joy of helping others.

"We've done some local outreach, helping different organizations that help the needy," Jeff said. "We've helped some families in this church that needed help doing yard work and other things they were unable to do."

"They're good kids, they really are," Tammy said. "They've got good hearts. The more we expose them to, they're going to get better and better at (helping others)."

Jeff explained how the youth group is hoping to go on a week-long mission trip to Copper Hill, Tennessee (near the Georgia border) in June.

"There's a lot of need there," he said. "I guess there was a mining operation there and it closed down a couple years ago, so it's a fairly needy area. There's a lot of home improvement stuff to be done and things like that – things people can't afford to do."

"It's going to give them an idea of what really poverty-stricken areas look like in the U.S.," Tammy said. "Eventually, we'd love to go overseas and do a mission trip with them. I think the only way we'll really get it is to see it. I don't think seeing it on TV is enough."

"They're the future of this country, this church and this community," Jeff said. "It's important that we try to teach them to see the need and spread love."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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