Holy Cross youth group races against clock to help village in El Salvador

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el_sal_pic_1_pg_7By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor

For five years, teenagers from Holy Cross Parish in Syracuse have travelled to El Salvador to help two communities in need there. They’ve provided wells for clean drinking water, built a school and a chapel, started a community garden, built chicken coops and helped to start a small sewing business there.

But the parish group’s next project for the community may be its biggest — raising $27,000 to fend off famine. And they have only a couple of weeks in which to do it.

“If we’re able to do this, it’s going to be a miracle,” said Andrea Jacobs, youth minister at the parish and one of the organizers of the annual trip to El Salvador.

On the youth group’s latest trip to El Salvador Feb. 17-24, community leaders in the villages of Rancho Grande and Taura mentioned on the group’s final night that they were bracing for a famine.

Flooding in El Salvador last fall destroyed the crops they would have relied on for food and income. “It went through and destroyed all of their land and all of their crops and all of the fertilizer they were making,” Jacobs said. “Basically it destroyed everything they had been doing.”

Since then, the community has been surviving on what crops they could salvage after the flood and the little bit of money they were able to set aside.

But by May, both the food and the money will run out.

“They just kind of mentioned it nonchalantly,” Jacobs said. “They didn’t really ask us for any money, they just wanted us to know because we’re their friends.”

At the end of this summer, the government in El Salvador will provide the community with more seeds. But villagers said they would like to plant a “short crop” in April which they can rely on in the meantime.

The youth group, which travelled to El Salvador along with young people from the group Young Life in East Syracuse, resolved to do something to help their friends. But they need to raise $27,000 within a month so that the money can be wired to El Salvador in time for an April 1 planting.

“That will pay for each family to have one acre of seed and fertilizer to plant,” Jacobs said.

But where will the money come from?

The members of the youth group, juniors and seniors in high school, thought that one good place to start is the prom.  Each of the members of the group agreed to cut $100 from their prom plans to donate instead to the El Salvador project.

For Elizabeth Domachowske, a senior at CBA who has gone to El Salvador each  year since ninth grade, this is a sacrifice that’s well worth it. “For my prom last year I think I spent about $400 on a dress that I did not need to spend that much money on,” she said. “[The people in El Salvador] are almost like a family for me, and I just don’t see how I could not do this to help them.”

The group is also collecting modern, gently-used prom dresses and bridesmaid dresses for a sale which will take place Sunday, March 20 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Holy Cross. The girls will buy their own dresses from this sale as well. Dresses will sell for around $20 each.

Jacobs said the response from the community has been overwhelming. “There have been a lot of amazing things happening,” she said.

In just a few weeks, the group has already earned $15,000 toward its goal. One man from Rochester wrote a check for $5,000, other donations have come pouring in from Holy Cross alumni and parishioners. The owner of Spybaby Boutique in Syracuse has donated 1,000 dresses to the sale. Students at CBA donated money as part of a dress-down day at the school.

Elizabeth said she’s feeling the pressure to get the money to El Salvador in time, but she’s full of hope. “There’s a lot of kids that are really determined to get the money,” she said. “I know we’ll do it.”

Jacobs said she loves how passionate the students are. “The kids are really recognizing how God is blessing this,” she said. “They’re really watching the Gospel come alive, and they’re blown away watching all of this come true.”

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