While most people are looking ahead into the new year, a group of south Charlotte individuals is preparing for a trip to South America.
But it's not a vacation.
Providence Presbyterian Church members, led by Keith Guercio, are taking vacation time to visit Chimbote, Peru, on a mission trip this month to help those among the poorest in the world.
The volunteers will build huts, help with medical care and support residents in a community of 400,000, where the average salary is $300 a year and unemployment hovers at 70 percent.
Thanks to financial assistance from PPC and the Matthews Rotary Club, the group plans to ship a large container filled with clothing, office and household furniture and other items to Peru.
Guercio is leading his third group - five returnees and three newcomers - to Chimbote.
"The people we see live in huts with dirt floors and no running water or indoor toilets," he said. "They appreciate whatever we can give them."
"I've never seen poverty like that," said Susan Miller, a repeat visitor. "There's human waste, dirty diapers, dead animals and people's trash. The smell is awful."
The group will be based at Los Amigos Foundation, a faith-based nonprofit foundation that supports the work of the Rev. Jack Davis and Sister Peggy Bryne. The two run a Roman Catholic parish with 30,000 parishioners.
Each visitor pays for their accommodations "inside a compound with three or four showers for 30 people, and a trickle of warm water," said Tim Good, who has made the trip several times.
"In the U.S. we have a safety net for people who need help, but there's nothing like that in Chimbote," said Good. "There are so many needs that it's hard to know where to start."
Last year, the group took disabled women for a day outing. It was a mental and physical challenge, said Dave Llewellyn, who also is a return visitor to Chimbote. "We got 50 women with their wheelchairs on and off a bus, into a 'pod' where they could relax in the ocean, and later fed and diapered them."
The group also distributed $1,300 to people for hospital care.
Wade Davis recalled one family whose newborn needed to stay in a neonatal unit. The cost was $2.70 a day, but the family couldn't afford the care.
"The child was on oxygen and needed nourishment. The baby was seven days old and had not been named," said Davis. The group paid for the medical care and to support the family while the baby was in the hospital.
Helping out in Chimbote is like "throwing a pebble in a great lake," said John Garver, another returning volunteer. "But if that's all you can do, you do it.
"You don't leave Chimbote. It comes back with you and a piece of it stays in your mind. Even if I never went back there I won't forget it. But I plan to keep going back to help."