In early January, a few weeks before temperatures in the Midwest dropped to the negatives, the Middle Eastern country of Lebanon was anticipating its own cold weather hit.
At the same time, Convoy of Hope, a nonprofit located in Springfield, was preparing to send help.
Jeff Nene, the national spokesperson for Convoy of Hope, said an employee who works for the organization in Lebanon notified the Springfield headquarters of the coming cold, and Convoy knew they had to help.
“We thought, ‘What can we do, quickly, to help’ because these storms were pretty severe,” Nene said. “Some places in the mountain got 10 feet of snow — that’s just phenomenal.”
One highway in Lebanon, connecting Damascus and the capital city of Beirut was covered in over 3 feet of snow in early January, according to the Associated Press.
Many in Lebanon were affected by the low temperatures, snow and flooding that followed, particularly in the Bekaa Valley, reported Al Jazeera.
Just a week after the Convoy employee notified them of the need, Convoy had set up an oil voucher program, handing out vouchers to families that they could then exchange for heating oil for their homes at various stores.
A week later, a shipping container was on its way, filled with food, blankets, pajamas, tarps and solar powered lanterns. Nene said they expedited the shipping, so the trip that would normally take around 16 weeks should take around half the time.
The container is currently on its way to Lebanon, where it will be distributed not only to food-insecure Lebanese families, but to some of the over one million Syrian refugees currently living there.
While assisting the refugees is important to Convoy, Nene said they wanted to ensure they helped the people of Lebanon, too.
“We don’t want to go into Lebanon and then only help people from another country,” Nene said.
All of the products currently being shipped to Lebanon were donated by various companies, including 900 LuminAID lanterns, and pajamas and blankets from American Airlines. When the supplies arrive in Lebanon, Nene said they will likely be distributed through local churches.
“I always tell people the two best sources for volunteers are churches and colleges because they’ve got a big mass of people willing to do something — they want to do things to help,” Nene said.
Nene said the supplies will arrive in Lebanon later than they wanted, but any supplies not used will be stored in Lebanon so they are available the next time a crisis arises.
“We’ve been at it long enough that we realize we can’t save everybody, but we can save some, and it means a lot to those people,” Nene said.
Convoy has been providing assistance in Lebanon since 2014, Nene said. It’s one of their focus countries. In Lebanon, around 1,000 children are in their feeding program, and Nene said it’s likely around half Lebanese children and half Syrian refugees.
Nene said the organization’s big picture goal is to eradicate poverty.
“We know we can’t do that by ourselves, so then we have to step back and say, ‘OK, what can we do?’” Nene said. “Our goal would be to help as many people as we can, children and families especially.”
“We don’t want to be an organization that throws food off the back of a truck.” – Jeff Nene
By providing food to children, Convoy hopes to help them stay in school and break the cycle of poverty.
“We don’t want to be an organization that throws food off the back of a truck,” Nene said. “We want to be an organization that makes it self-sustaining, to where we can feed these kids, but we don’t want to feed their kids. We want them to learn how to feed themselves. We want to help them take that next step to getting out of poverty.”
For Nene, who has been with the organization for 24 of its 25 years, the effect of Convoy’s assistance worldwide is a rewarding part of his job.
“It’s really cool to know that whatever it is you’re doing, you’re having an impact on somebody halfway around the world that you’ll never meet, but yet the work that you do everyday is having an impact on their life,” Nene said. “There’s not much more gratifying than that. I think as an organization, it’s fulfilling and gratifying to see that we’re doing what we set out to do.”