This morning, with a belly full of coffee and Cranberry Almond cereal, I was searching on Google for something about Manifest Destiny and stumbled upon David Wasson. He’s had an illustrious career in food, including culinary instruction and a large catering business in the Seattle area. He was also founder and director of the Chef & Child Program for the American Culinary Federation. Making sure kids eat well has been his mission ever since his own boys were little and followed him around the kitchen.
Despite all that, I had never heard of him. But everyone should hear about him and what he is doing for childhood hunger in Southeast Asia.
Every Saturday, on a long table set in a vacant lot, Wasson feeds 250 Mindanao children–most of whom are about 40 percent short of healthy weight. “I can’t walk away and leave malnourished children standing there–I just can’t,” Wasson says, in his excellent article on Blue Planet Green Living. On the verge of retiring in 2008, Wasson moved to the Phillipines, where he was invited to a Thanksgiving celebration at Purok Graciaville. The children, lovely and smiling, dressed in clean clothes, were nevertheless thin and chronically malnourished.
I had never heard of him. But everyone should hear about him and what he is doing for childhood hunger in Southeast Asia.
Wasson had discussions with local service workers and was startled to learn that the children were often twice as old as he guessed. Their bones and bodies had not developed properly, their hair was thin and dull. Wasson began by using his modest teacher’s pension from North Seattle Community College to serve a feast of rice, sauteed vegetables and milk twice a month. Still, it was not enough. Wasson realized he needed to feed these kids every day.
When he approached Purok leaders about starting a food bank, they immediately donated a building. Spending $300 on improvements and getting all of the necessary licenses, Wasson opened the Tagum City Food Bank two months ago.
“The official word for a severely malnourished child is ‘wasted,’ ” Wasson comments. “That word should never, ever be used to describe a child.” He has carved out his own second career making sure the children around him gain weight and get enough to eat. Along with preparing meals and running the food bank, Wasson also provides classes to the parents on healthy living, breastfeeding and of course, cooking.
Like everyone else, I drown in direct mail that pleads with me to feed the hungry. It’s hard not to harden your heart against the noise and donation envelopes that keep coming, day after day. Yet somehow, Wasson’s story got through the noise. I want to do something for him and the children he is feeding. And I will.
David Wasson is a hero for hundreds of children we will never know. He is now my hero, too.