After a long day at school and an hour or so of basketball practice, Owen Halls comes home to find one small pot in the center of the kitchen table.
He quickly remembers that tonight his family of five will have only rice for supper, but instead of shaking his head or rolling his eyes, he smiles.
“I thought I’d hear grumbles and moans but [my kids] are more excited about it than I am,” said Molly Halls, Owen’s mother.
Six weeks ago, the Halls family, who live between Northfield and Faribault in the small town of Millersburg, decided to make a change in their weekly dinner routine and substitute a meal of just rice and water once a week and donate the money saved on food to a family in need. Estimating they save about $10 a week in food not purchased for that meal, the Halls figure that by Christmas they will have $120 to donate to Heifer International — an organization that uses donations to buy animals for undernourished families that can provide sustainable nutrition and a way out of poverty.
With just $20, the organization can purchase a flock of chickens for a family, providing them with a food source but also a continual supply of eggs they can be sold to purchase other necessary items.
Molly first learned of the organization five years ago after spending some time at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in the state of Washington. Once a week the center served a meal of just rice to support the organization, but also give visitors a taste of what millions of people around the world experience every day.
According to Heifer International, nearly 870 million people around the world, or one in eight, don’t have enough food to eat and suffer from chronic undernourishment.
“Without face to face contact, it’s easy to say, ‘that’s not my problem,’” said Molly. “I think if we had to look people in the face it would be so different.”
Though the Halls family isn’t looking starving people in the eyes, they are trying to put themselves in their shoes for a short time every week.
“It’s like we’re switching a day with people in Africa,” said Owen, a 6th grader at Northfield Middle School.
Owen’s younger sister Naomi, a big fan of fresh fruit, admits that she does miss that sweet taste when rice night comes around, but it also serves as an important reminder.
“I try and imagine what it’s like to have just rice every day and no fruit,” said 9-year-old Naomi.
And after dinner, there is no sneaking a late night apple with peanut butter or a handful of strawberries.
“We have a strict no snack after rice policy,” said Molly. “And if [the kids] feel a little hungry at night it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what other kids feel on a regular basis.”
While they sit around the dinner table together eating rice or even in the evening when little twinges of hunger might come and go, the family uses the time to discuss which animal to buy for a family, come Christmas.
So far Owen and his sister Mara are pretty set on a goat, but Naomi has other ideas.
“I think I’d pick a cow because it tastes better,” said Naomi, who along with her siblings, has grown up on a farm surrounded by cows and chickens.
But no matter if they decide to donate money for a goat, a cow, chickens or rabbits, they feel good knowing that they are helping others and gaining perspective on their own lives.
“It feels good to know I’m helping starving people,” said Owen.
“We’re helping people be healthy and saving people’s lives,” said Naomi.
“It’s one thing to donate money, which is a somewhat easy thing to do, but this connects your actions with your donation,” said Joel, Molly’s husband.
The rice serves as a weekly reminder of all that they have, what others are not fortunate enough to have, and what they can do to make a change.
“If you’re grateful and every day you remind yourself of what you’re grateful for, you’re going to be a happier person,” said Molly. “We are making a small sacrifice, but having a big impact.”
Reach reporter Erin O’Neill in Faribault at 333-3132 or in Northfield at 645-1115, or follow her on Twitter.com @ReporterONeill.
Reach reporter Erin O'Neill in Faribault at 333-3132 or in Northfield at 645-1115, or follow her on Twitter.com @ReporterONeill.