It had been more than 30 years since James Cammilleri last spoke with high school friend Tod Mowery.
What started as a simple invite to a developing nation to complete mission work, resulted in an ever-strengthening relationship with God, his wife Sarah and the people of Haiti.
Less than a year after taking that phone call, James and Sarah Cammilleri have taken on a project that is feeding 3,000 children per month at schools and churches throughout Haiti.
“We were happy, but we felt that we were kind of missing something in our life. We just felt like we had a greater purpose,” said Cammilleri, who owns six BURGER KING® restaurants in upstate New York under JSC Management Group.
So, when Mowery called, the couple jumped on the opportunity without missing a beat. By November 2015, they were on their first trip to Haiti to help build a school. “When we were asked to build a school, we both said yes. We didn’t really think about it. If they needed it, we would go ahead and do it, which is kind of atypical of a business man,” said Cammilleri. “Normally we analyze everything and think about every penny and where the money is going to go and how’s it going to be done. In this situation, it was kind of against my nature, but I just felt that it was something that God wanted us to do.”
It was during that first trip that the Cammilleris learned that the schools in the area only had enough funds to feed the children every other day and that school was often the only place where kids were fed at all. The couple decided then and there that this was something they cared about, and they wanted to help.
“I was brought up in a house where my mom would buy wheat in buckets, and she would grind the wheat and bake bread every day,” said Cammilleri. “Breads made from fresh-ground ingredients contain every essential vitamin and nutrient that the human body needs as opposed to store bought ingredients that have no active cultures and yeasts.”
This seemed like a sustainable way to feed the children of Haiti, and the duo committed to what they are calling The Haiti Bread Project. After numerous failed attempts to buy wholesale wheat from farmers across the country, Cammilleri turned to Sue Becker, founder of The Bread Beckers, which travels the United States educating the public on the health benefits of making your own bread from whole grains and even hosts cooking classes.
Cammilleri’s mother was familiar with Becker’s teachings, and reached out to her in search of the best place for her son to buy wholesale wheat. As fate would have it, Becker was hosting a seminar in Cammilleri’s hometown of Port St. Lucie, which was also where the ministries the Cammilleris had been working with were based. The couple sent Mowery and the pastors of the two ministries to the seminar, and by its conclusion, the group had convinced Becker to come along for the ride.
The Cammilleris also worked alongside another family member, a mason by trade, to create a design for an oven in which to bake the bread. “I needed to design something that was really inexpensive, something that was not going to need any repair and something I could build quickly to see if I could actually get this thing off the ground,” said Cammilleri. The couple decided to move forward with an 8-foot by 4-foot block structure fueled by propane.
In March, the duo, accompanied this time by Becker, made another trip to Haiti. It took four days to build four ovens, and everyone was pleased with the outcome. “It came out like cake. It was just so awesome, and the kids loved it,” said Cammilleri.
Now that the group had figured out a recipe and built the ovens, the next challenge was to keep resources stocked. The Cammilleris bought enough ingredients from town to get the schools through the last two months of classes and returned to the states with a goal of getting 30,000 pounds of wheat back down to Haiti by the time school started again in the fall.
“If you rent a shipping container, whether you put 10 pounds in it or 40,000 pounds in it, it is going to be the same shipping price,” said Cammilleri.
Three weeks before the start of the school year in Haiti, the couple received yet another godsend. One of the grain mills Becker ordered from donated 12,500 pounds of wheat. This was promptly followed by Cammilleris’ church donating $8,000, enough to buy another 12,500 pounds of wheat, and Half United, an ethical fashion company based in North Carolina, donated the remaining 5,000 pounds of wheat.
Just like that, the duo had 30,000 pounds of wheat ready to make the journey to Haiti. Getting everything squared away would take some time though, so the Cammilleris sent over 600 pounds of wheat in early September to hold the schools over until the rest of the supplies arrived.
Buying and transporting wheat to Haiti is no easy feat – and it surely isn’t cheap, so the Cammilleris have been supplementing wheat with local corn, which not only gives a bit of a boost to the Haitian economy, but is much easier and cheaper to turn into food for the children.
In March, there were enough resources to feed 1,000 kids per month, but by the time the couple left in September, they were helping feed 2,000 kids per month. Cammilleri says that if interest and participation continue on the current trajectory, they will be feeding up to 10,000 children per month before no time.
“Everything that Sarah and I have done we’ve done it based on faith and based on leadership. [The hope was] if people see that we’re doing it and believe in it, other people would follow and they would want to donate toward the project,” said Cammilleri. “That has slowly but surely happened.”
The ultimate goal for the Cammilleris? Simply to create a sustainable model helping as many people truly in need as they can. Since the couples’ first trip to Haiti, they have built two schools, two churches and five bread ovens. They have two more churches requesting bread ovens, and during the duo’s last trip they ran across an out-of-business bakery that they hope to rehab into a booming community staple.
The bakery closed when it was no longer able to use wood to power its ovens, but the Cammilleris think the propane burners used in their smaller bread ovens, could provide the perfect solution. If the couple can get the bakery up and running it could sell bread to the entire community and make deliveries to schools.
“Sarah and I are not going to change Haiti,” said Cammilleri. “We hope that by what we’re doing, those kids that we’re helping out are going to rise up and change Haiti. Those people have to rise up. They have to want to change Haiti.”
Source: FLAME by National Franchisee Association
HELP US WIDEN OUR REACH
Everything that Sarah and I have done we’ve done it based on faith and based on leadership. The hope was if people see that we’re doing it and believe in it, other people would follow and they would want to donate toward the project.
Our ultimate goal?
To create a sustainable model helping as many people truly in need as we can. Since our first trip to Haiti, we have helped built two schools, two churches and five bread ovens.
We know we can do more.
And we’re building the resources and partnerships to help even more people in need.
This is our purpose. This is our mission. Please join us.