FIRST PRINTED IN THE NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2021 ISSUE
Stepping foot into Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, stung Gina Gabel’s heart so deeply she simply just couldn’t look away.
“When you arrive, your senses are just inundated with sights and sounds and smells. You are immediately shocked by everything around you and then you see these kids that are babies, moms holding babies, begging for food. There’s people everywhere begging for food. I think that was the most shocking thing, I couldn’t sit with it. I had to do something,” she says.
A special and general ed teacher, she intended to volunteer teach while her husband was on diplomatic assignment there. On her first school visit, she asked the director about the school’s biggest need. The not-so-simple answer: hunger. The school had 2 cents a week to spend on food for each child. So Gabel committed to bringing 250 bananas on her next visit. She took to Facebook and soon all of her friends jumped in to help. She was able to fill her BOB stroller with the 250 bananas, plus eggs, carrots and cucumbers. “It’s astounding how inexpensive it is to nourish a child,” says the Grosse Pointe mom of three, Lucy, 14, Alice, 12, and Etta, 8.
The nonprofit that sprang out of that early effort to provide bananas, Thrive, now provides about 3,000 kids 15,000 meals a week in Bangladesh and the Philippines. It’s helped school attendance soar, kids’ health improve and interestingly during the pandemic, reduced child marriage, she says.
Thrive is, literally, helping kids thrive.
Gabel believes parents can help their kids by giving them opportunities to see problems around them and the tools to do something about it. While the need in metro Detroit isn’t thrown in your face as it is in Dhaka, it’s here, she says.
“I really believe kids are born with this desire to help and to right a wrong. … As they grow and try to make sense of the world, they realize that’s wrong (that) this child doesn’t have food,” she says.
Thrive also is a movement that families can do together. Gabel’s girls have taken it to heart as well, donating their birthdays every year to raise money for food instead of seeking presents, and so many others are doing school fundraisers and lemonade stands to help.
“I think it’s a perspective issue for me. I think moms and parents can get so stuck in the day-to-day small issues that you sometimes lose sight of the present and lose sight of the gratitude you should be feeling and how lucky we are,” she says.
Just the other day, she says she was yelling at the kids because their rooms were messy. Yet she says it seems so wrong to even worry about that.
“There are moms all over the world who are looking for the next morsel of food to give their kid. If you can keep it in mind that there are people who actually have real problems that are life and death, it tempers your reaction to your own problems.”
“Ironically, making school lunches.”
“Watching TV. My husband and I, I think, have watched every single episode of The Bachelor since the beginning of time.”
“I hope they respect me and I hope they respect how I spend my time. I guess they don’t have to like me, but that’s a bonus if they like me in the process.”
“I squeezed a Half-Ironman into a day of being a mom” (hosted a kids’ sleepover, called in a sitter while completing the run portion, returned home to make pancakes for the kids, got another sitter and did the 56-mile bike ride and 2-mile swim.)
“I find myself over volunteering myself because if I think something is important, I say yes. It’s hard to find a balance in where I want to place my time. I don’t do it very well and yes it’s hard. I don’t have very many tips.”