Jonathan Meeks and his fiancee, Anitra, sponsor the support of a Haitian child for $35 a month.
But on a recent trip to the country they were unable to see their sponsor for a simple reason: the child would have had to hike six hours through Haiti’s forested and mountainous terrain to meet them.
Nothing is easy in Haiti, a fact that Meeks and several other NFL players saw firsthand when they took a “vision trip” to the struggling Caribbean island nation in March.
The trip was sponsored by Food For The Hungry, an American charity fighting to improve lives in Haiti. Meeks and the others, including his friend and former Clemson teammate Coty Sensabaugh, want to raise an initial $17,000 to build water infrastructure for the isolated Haitian communities they visited, Bellevue La Montagne and Kenscoff.
Meeks and his fiancee saw a different community during their trip that had received water infrastructure help and the differences were evident.
“They had pipelines and water piping uphill. You could tell that community was way better off,” said Meeks, the former Rock Hill Bearcats and Clemson standout. “The people were happier, the families were together.”
Following years of political and economic upheaval and a life-crumbling earthquake in 2010, every aspect of Haitian life needs improvement. Water is a starting point. In the communities with water shortages, kids can’t go to school because they need to make multiple hour hikes to retrieve water for the family. The lack of potable water means families are split up during the day doing various arduous tasks and spend less time together.
Meeks was impressed with Food for the Hungry, which he said largely side-steps the Haitian government - ranked 159th out of 176 countries for corruption by Transparency International - and works with advocates in local communities to set up projects. Food For The Hungry’s hope is that involving NFL players like Meeks and Sensabaugh can raise the profile of its efforts in Haiti.
Back in Kenscoff, small children scurried around, some wearing tattered shirts or pants, some without either. The little ones reminded Meeks and Anitra, a South Pointe graduate, of their 3-year old daughter, Nori. The image was burned into Meeks’ mind.
He was struck by “how young the kids have to be grown. Their focus is on the next meal. It was heartbreaking and it just humbled me, what we have here.”
After four years in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, Meeks and Anitra have no difficulty donating $35 a month to support a Haitian child. But giving doesn’t require an NFL contract. Meeks pointed out how many American households give $10 to Netflix on a monthly basis and barely notice the transaction.
“Or you can change someone’s life with that same amount,” he said.
Meeks plans to donate to the group based on his statistics during the 2017 season. He’s an unrestricted free agent at the moment, but has faith that he’ll find a spot where he can contribute to a team - and the Haitian people - this fall.
Interested in supporting Food For The Hungry?
Jonathan Meeks is gauging the Rock Hill community’s interest in augmenting his work with Food for the Hungry. There are no concrete plans yet, but Meeks said he wanted to host an event to talk about Food For The Hungry in his hometown. Those that would be interested in participating or attending any potential event are asked to please contact Milam Byers at email@example.com and are also encouraged to check out Meeks’ Food For The Hungry page at http://players.fh.org/jonathan-meeks/ to donate or find more information.