South Charlotte

Lunch Project serving up student success

The Lunch Project, a local nonprofit charity run by three Charlotte working mothers, is intended to provide long-term financial support to allow Tanzanian mothers to cook and serve nutritious meals to schoolchildren, making them better equipped to receive a good education.

Founders Sheri Buske, Rebecca Wofford and Kristin Steele say they created the project because it is their belief that all children should be given an opportunity to succeed. In 2008, Buske, who had just moved to Charlotte from Tanzania, met Wofford, and together they struggled to put their beliefs into action.

Two years later, while making holiday gifts of candy in bowls, to be used for charitable giving, the idea for The Lunch Project was born.

Steele joined the effort later, and in May the three women started The Ernest and Ava Foundation, named after the project's coordinators in Tanzania, Ernest and Ava Mmbaga.

Ernest and Ava, lifelong residents of the Kilimanjaro region of Northern Tanzania, have three children. They believe education is critical not only to their children's future but to their country's future as well. Ernest and Ava will purchase ingredients for the lunches and oversee the lunch program.

The Ernest and Ava Foundation is based on the belief that education is the key to prosperity and growth for individuals and communities. The foundation also fosters philanthropy and global awareness for families in the United States and Tanzania.

As part of The Lunch Project - the foundation's first initiative - students in Tanzania will bring a bowl from home, along with firewood they collect while walking to school.

While the children attend class, local mothers will prepare their afternoon meal. The project will also utilize local food purveyors, says co-founder Wofford.

"This is a win-win for all participants," said Wofford. "The children get a nourishing hot meal, local mothers become more engaged in children's education, and local food vendors benefit from selling their produce.

"We want to provide the Tanzanian students with porridge cooked that day so that the children are fed a fresh, nutritious meal, while at the same time supporting local farmers and businesses."

Local mothers who cook meals also will receive a small stipend for their service, an added benefit in a community where most do not have an income.

Buske, Wofford and Steele say that once the foundation can successfully sustain a lunch program for the entire school year, new projects will be added, including building a library and providing new desks and running water for the school. They also hope to develop lunch programs at additional schools in Tanzania.

In addition to understanding the importance of education for their own children, the three working mothers say this project allows them to teach their children about philanthropy and that we are all part of a global community.

"We feel privileged to have received excellent educations as women growing up in this country. In turn, we realize that we should pay our good fortune forward by helping children of mothers who are less fortunate," said Wofford.