She knew she wanted to help in more ways than her short 10-day trip. The spark of an idea formed as soon as she got back home, and over the past two years God has molded that idea into a reality that is a new nonprofit that regularly feeds five families – 35 people – in Trianon, Haiti.
Backpack Haiti held its first meal distribution July 20, 2019 as a branch of Luke101, in partnership with three other organizations: H.O.M.E. (Haitian Outreach Ministry of Evangelism), CHAMPs, and Meds & Food for Kids. Kelsi said five sponsored families will receive meals every other week because of her nonprofit.
“It’s hard to put into words how big God is,” she said. “God has worked in this program in infinite ways and it’s a humbling thing to know that this is His program. He’s allowing us to be a part of it. It’s crazy. I never would have imagined at 23 I’d be a director of a nonprofit.”
Kelsi, a native of Fremont, Nebraska, was about to wrap up her elementary education degree from Wayne State College when she traveled to Haiti in the summer of 2017. She said she was reading a book when God laid overseas missions on her heart.
“I didn’t know where I was going to go, but God found a way to tell me about the CIY ministry and I learned about its missions program, Engage, through the website,” she said. “The trip opportunities to Haiti were exactly what I wanted to do – working with kids. Everyone usually hears about Engage at MOVE (CIY’s summer conference for high schoolers), but in my story it was like CIY found me.”
While in Haiti, the Engage team worked with the H.O.M.E. and Luke101 organizations and visited villages where extreme malnourishment was evident. Kelsi said there was a red tint in the Haitians’ hair, and she was crushed when she learned that’s what the human body does without food for multiple days.
“God completely shattered my heart on this trip,” Kelsi said. “I’ll never forget the moment when we were passing out food to the people at a VBS. I had 10 kids left and I knew I didn’t have enough bread for them. I prayed, ‘God provide – please.’ And out of nowhere, someone just said ‘Hey, here’s one more!’ That was the exact moment I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
When Kelsi returned home, she started making connections with the nonprofits she saw in action in Haiti. Two other teammates from that Engage trip joined her effort – RJ Olmstead, of Arizona, and Conner McKenzie, of Missouri – and Backpack Haiti came to fruition.
Today, the new nonprofit operates on donations and a large team of people to help carry out the mission. Kelsi said the five families are seen every-other week by the people of CHAMPs when they host a medical clinic. The families’ nutrition and health are evaluated, and then food is purchased based on their findings. The food is purchased from Meds & Food for Kids, an organization located in the country that also provides jobs for Haitians. Luke101 delivers the food – which is in the form of mana packs and contains nutrition not normally found in the families’ diets.
“Finding the food source was difficult due to the corruptness of the government,” Kelsi said. “It was a God-thing this connection happened when it did because I was planning to be in Haiti again during the time we solidified that connection. Political unrest made me cancel the trip and at the time I was very disappointed. But if I had been gone, that connection wouldn’t have happened, and we’d still be looking for a food source.”
On top of routine communications with Luke101 – which has a home office in Georgia – Kelsi coordinates with her teammates to advocate for the nonprofit and raise funds. Today, Kelsi continues nonprofit work in Fremont, which she says is excellent experience that will benefit Backpack Haiti.
“I can’t wait to go back and see my friends again in Haiti,” Kelsi said. “I know it’ll be God’s timing, and I know He’ll use it in bigger ways than I can imagine because that’s what He’s done throughout this whole thing. My prayer has been for God to provide everything these families need – not just food – and let us do His work that points people to Jesus and hope.”
To learn more about sponsoring a family or helping support this effort, please visit backpackhaiti.com and visit “Backpack Haiti” on social media for updates and other ways to support the organization.
To find out more about Engage international trips, click here.