Gleaners to Guatemala – the long road travelled

Gleaners to Guatemala – the long road travelled

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Madonna Petraroia and her family learned a great deal about life during their trip to the Gleaners in Oliver, and her trip to Guatemala to help residents there. Here, she shares a moment with Nunavut in a small village. Photos contributed

Journey paved way for love, faith, hope, peace

Madonna Petraroia and her family learned a great deal about life during their trip to the Gleaners in Oliver, and her trip to Guatemala to help residents there. Here, she shares a moment with Nunavut in a small village.              Photos contributed
Madonna Petraroia and her family learned a great deal about life during their trip to the Gleaners in Oliver, and her trip to Guatemala to help residents there. Here, she shares a moment with Nunavut in a small village. Photos contributed

Kimberley and nanuvResiding on Vancouver Island, I first heard about the Okanagan Gleaners in Oliver from my parents. They have been faithful volunteers for nine years.

June 2011, my two children and I decided to volunteer and follow my parents to the Gleaners, literally following them.

We drove behind their fifth wheel, off the island, through Manning Provincial Park and all the way to Oliver.

My kids documented our trip with their iPods and betting when their grandparents were going to pull over again; by pointing out every single bear along the side of the road or lounging higher up on the hills.

The Gleaners is run mainly on volunteer power and donations. A local orchardist offered a small acreage with an old 1920s tobacco-drying barn.  It was renovated into a food processing plant and production began in July 1996.

They produce mainly dried soup mix consisting of Brussels sprouts, onions, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, turnips, potatoes, and dried peas. Since 1996 over 45 million servings have been shipped and distributed around the globe.

Later we found out that the children from the Third World countries call it “medicine soup.”

It was a great opportunity to show my children how truly blessed we really are and to never take anything for granted.

To some it is the simplest things: food on the table, a bed to sleep in, clothing, and a roof over their heads. To others, it is a precious gift to have any of the above, let alone just one of the simplest things.

The following year my children approached me and asked when we were going to volunteer again. Heart warmed and excited that they were the ones initiating the trip, we packed up and hit the road again.

After several volunteer experiences with my family and each time unquestionably “priceless,”  I decided on a spur of the moment road trip to Oliver in September 2012 on my own.

I knew I would miss my family but something inside me was telling me I really needed to go and I would also see my parents. (I’m not going to lie, being a mom and having solitude of a road trip . . . sanity returns.)   As always the drive to Oliver was breathtakingly beautiful.

Several days before I was to return home, Phil and Judy Bergen from Abbottsford appeared at the Gleaners. My mom leaned over to me as we worked side by side letting me know that they are volunteers at the Gleaners in Abbotsford.  I could sense that there was much more to this couple and I was right.

Phil and Judy work in Guatemala; they have been doing this for the past 13 years.  They build houses for widows and single moms and their children, bringing necessities such as school supplies, clothing, hygienic provisions and so much more.

They have truly fallen in love with the people of Guatemala and I was able to witness firsthand that the feeling is mutual by the people.

My encounter with them was so strong and I drove home with pamphlets on “Luv Guatemala.” Something in the back of my head was telling me this was no ordinary meeting.

I had some time to think about their next mission trip to Guatemala. After I arrived back home, I told my kids and husband about volunteering in Guatemala for 10 days in November. So with encouragement from my family and friends, the next thing I knew I was flying to Guatemala.

Amongst helping in different areas of Guatemala, I painted in the new soup kitchen, connecting me back to volunteering in Oliver. It made me smile that I was helping in the “medicine soup” kitchen.

Every person I met on the team is so warm and loving, each individual having a beautiful or heartache story and each one told with such raw emotion.

Every time I think about my experiences I had, the children I met, friends I made in Oliver and Guatemala, it takes my breath away and I find myself grinning ear to ear.

The road I travelled to Oliver, paved the way for me to experience unconditional love, faith, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, heartache, peace, serenity and hope.  It made the road paved with gold.

My children still have every picture of every bear that their grandparents pulled over for (over 20). Needless to say, it took us awhile to get to Oliver.

Madonna K. Petraroia

Special to the Chronicle

 

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