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Operation Starfish® Gives a Life-Transforming Gift to Food For The Poor

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (May 25, 2017)  Today, Fr. Robert C. Cilinski, pastor of the Church of the Nativity, presented Robin Mahfood, President/CEO of Food For The Poor, with a check from his parish’s 2017 Operation Starfish® campaign, which was created by the late Fr. Richard Martin in 1998.

“My life has been greatly enriched by my encounter with Food For The Poor since I arrived at Nativity three years ago. I am reminded that we all need each other. ‘YOU’ has been turned into an ‘US’,” said Fr. Cilinski. “We bring to you a gift that represents our prayers, support, our belief in you and our gratitude for your good work.”

This is the 19th anniversary of Operation Starfish® and today’s donation will be used to build the 11th Nativity Village, this one in Despuzeau, Haiti. Located 25 miles east of Port-au-Prince, this dry and barren community was chosen by the church’s college and young adult ministry during their mission trip to the Caribbean nation with Fr. Cilinski last July.

The majority of the families in Despuzeau live in one-room shacks made of clay and mud, with dirt floors. These homes do not provide adequate protection from the elements, and many of the adults in the community are unemployed.

This latest village will provide 80 families with secure homes with flush toilets and solar-powered light kits, a community center, and a school with a sanitation block, along with furnishings and playground. A self-sustaining animal husbandry project also will be included.

“Words are not enough to express our gratitude. This gift is truly a blessing and will help us to provide shelter for one family at a time, to shelter them from the storm and to cool them from the heat,” said Mahfood. “God bless you and we are so proud of Nativity, you are truly blessed and we thank you very much for what you’re doing.”

During the past 19 years, Nativity’s Parish has partnered with Food For The Poor to build more than 1,400 homes in 10 Nativity Villages. They have established various co-ops, such as sewing and fishing villages, in addition to aquaculture, agriculture and animal husbandry projects in Haiti. The church also helped to support Food For The Poor with relief during times of natural disasters.

Jim McDaniel, who retired from Food For The Poor last year and who serves as a liaison with Nativity and its Operation Starfish® campaign, reflected on the longstanding and beautiful tradition during the celebration at Food For The Poor’s headquarters in Coconut Creek, Fla.

“As important as the money is, the Operation Starfish® campaign has never been about the money alone, it’s always been about the heart. It’s about helping people, that is what we do,” said McDaniel. “Today, I may be wearing a visitor’s badge, but I am still a part of your family and I always will be.”

A group of Nativity’s parishioners will return to Haiti with Food For The Poor the week of July 10-14 for its annual mission trip.

Those interested in starting an Operation Starfish® program at their parish, school or organization can visit or call 877-654-2960, ext. 6213. Parishes nationwide also participate in Operation Starfish® programs during Lent, vacation Bible study sessions, Christmas in July celebrations, back-to-school fundraisers, and in preparation for Advent.

Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. Over the last 10 years, fundraising and other administrative costs averaged less than 5 percent of our expenses; more than 95 percent of all donations went directly to programs that help the poor. For more information, please visit

Wanda Wright

Public Relations
954-427-2222 x 6079


Operation Starfish History and Update

A meeting was held on March 9, providing an update on Operation Starfish and to share some stories and testimonies from past trips. It was very obvious during the meeting that the Holy Spirit has moved us all and that Christ is in us and in those we serve. God is good!

Operation Starfish – Lent 2016

Thanks for continuing to put your pocket change and paper currency into the basket for Operation Starfish and Catholic Relief Services.

Tossing in a few dollar bills and your extra change goes a long way when everyone is doing it. Last year we raised $426,377.37 for Operation Starfish. That a huge amount of love going into that simple wicker basket.


What’s even more amazing is what Operation Starfish was able to do with that money in three impoverished Caribbean and Central American nations:


  1. Complete Phase II of Good Shepherd Village (40 homes, sanitation projects, clean drinking water, add marketplace structures with toilets and animal pens).
  2. Provide support for the St. Anthony Health Center in Nativity Village, provide 100 goats and 50 cows for the animal husbandry program and more.
  3. Fund the school scholarship at primary schools in all of our Nativity Villages.
  4. Provide books and computers for the DaCruz Library and initial book stocks for a new library in Nativity Village at Chastenoye and provide book stocks for new library in Madras.
  5. Provide initial book stocks for a new library in Nativity Village at Madras.
  6. Provide surgical supplies for Bernard Mevs Hospital.
  7. Provides family support for patients at Cardinal Leger Leper Hospital.
  8. Build a new dormitory at Montessino Orphanage and two playgrounds at primary schools.

Dominican Republic

  1.  Build a greenhouse for the Diocese Mission at Banica


  1. Provide a new boat, motor and equipment for a fishing co-op, along with education assistance for the family assigned to the boat.

Your contributions have made a huge difference in the lives of many! May God bless you!

Good Shepherd Village Dedication

Good Shepherd Village in Dalon, Haiti was recently dedicated in the memory of the late Father Richard B. Martin.

It is the 10th “Nativity Village” development funded by Operation Starfish and built by Food for the Poor since 1998. The ceremony was attended by more than 1,000 Haitians from the mountainous area around Dalon.

“It was a powerful, powerful trip,” Father Bob said. “I know now why Father Martin became obsessed with raising money for the villages in Haiti. We will continue to do that.”

On the mission trip, Father Bob led a group that included four members of Father Martin’s family and several past and present Nativity parishioners, including Deacon Dale Avery and his wife Sheila, Jim McDaniel and his daughter Jill, Mary Ellen Smith, Jill Chastain and Tom Amodio.

Dedication Good Shepherd

“It was awesome to think that while Pope Francis was convening the Synod on the Family, we had brought together Father Martin’s family, our Nativity family and our Haiti family to celebrate Mass and inaugurate a new Nativity Village,” said Nativity Parish Operation Starfish Coordinator Jim McDaniel.

So far Good Shepherd Village has 60 homes with indoor toilets and access to clean drinking water, a school with over 750 students, a 120-stall market and a community center. A clinic and an additional 20 homes will be built this year and another 40 homes in 2016. There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new community center at the top of a mountain with beautiful vistas all around. A meditation garden sits adjacent to the building, with a 20-foot mural that includes a pastoral scene with sheep and a shepherd, recalling Father Martin’s ministry.

Father Martin started Operation Starfish at Nativity Parish in 1998. Since then, Nativity parishioners have worked with Food for the Poor to build more than 1,400 homes in Haiti along with schools, clinics, fishing and sewing co-ops, and many self-sustaining projects. Nativity’s Operation Starfish has also funded Food for the Poor projects in Jamaica, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Today, Operation Starfish is a trademarked program of Food for the Poor, with more than 300 churches and schools across the country participating.

During the celebration at Good Shepard Village, Fr. Martin’s brother, Jack, spoke to the community. He shared with all of us that he had spent the day walking in Fr. Martin’s shoes…literally. Jack decided to leave Fr. Martin’s shoes in Haiti and they will be given to someone who really needs them. Fr. Martin’s legacy lives on…he continues to love and provide for the people of Haiti.

Dick's Shoes

One of the members on the trip stated “It was very emotional…a blessing to have Fr. Martin’s brother and sister walk through Good Shepherd Village – the nearest essence to his own presence”.

Jim McDaniel concluded, “I felt that this was the point at which we left the real presence of Father Martin and continued our work with the poor under his spiritual presence,” Jim said. “He has taught us well. Now we are on our own, with the help of God, to continue the work of Operation Starfish.”

School supplies for Haiti tonight

Maureen E. Sawyer is giving a presentation on education in Haiti tonight about gathering school supplies for Haiti. Her presentation was focused on the needs of the people in Haiti and how everyone can help.


Group inspired by Maureen and helping sort school supplies for Haiti on November 21st.

Maureen supplies

crayons3crayons2  crayons4 crayons5 crayons6 crayons7 crayons8 craysons1


Up cycling crayons for schools in Haiti

The crayons will be melted and molded into new crayons and wrapped with a label about Operation Starfish and Fish 4 Hope. Some will be sent to Haiti along with school supplies that have been collected. Others will be offered to members of our community as a tangible reminder of the gap in educational poverty. Any donations offered will assist with shipping everything to Food For The Poor headquarters in Miami to distribute to Nativity villages in Haiti.


Church of the Nativity Mission to Haiti 2015

Nov 17, 2015  -The Church of the Nativity returns to Haiti under the leadership of Father Bob Cilinski to inaugurate The Good Shepherd Village, built in honor of Father Richard Martin. Father Bob tells the story of a family whose lives were transformed as they moved from a stick shack to a beautiful, sturdy Food For The Poor home.

Nativity Parish Fulfills a Legacy of Love For The Poor

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (May 28, 2015) – Today, Father Robert C. Cilinski, pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Burke, Virginia, hand-delivered a check to Food For The Poor CEO/President Robin Mahfood for the proceeds from the parish’s 2015 Operation Starfish® campaign.


Food For The Poor’s staff gave a standing ovation to thank Nativity parishioners for the sacrifices they made to change the lives of destitute families in Haiti.

“Pope Francis tells us, ‘To live charitably means not looking out for our own interests, but carrying the burdens of the weakest and poorest among us’,” said Fr. Cilinski. “Today, the parishioners of Church of the Nativity join with the staff of Food For The Poor to recommit ourselves to the weakest and poorest among us.”


“For 17 years, Church of the Nativity’s parishioners have looked beyond themselves to create lifesaving miracles for the poor,” said Mahfood, who was humbled by the generous outpouring of support from Nativity’s parishioners. Mahfood met in early May with His Holiness Pope Francis at Vatican City.


“Nativity has been a blessing to the poor,” said Mahfood. “A house, with access to water and a flush toilet, is one of the greatest gifts we can give a family. This gift will help to bring the people closer to God. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

The donation will be used to continue the development of Good Shepherd Village near Grand Boulage, Haiti. This village is the 10th built by Nativity, and it is named Good Shepherd Village in memory of Fr. Richard Martin, who worked with the charity for 16 years through Operation Starfish®. Additional gifts will continue to support existing projects like the St. Anthony Health Center and the Nativity Village scholarship program.

Fr. Martin died unexpectedly last May at the age of 74.

“This year, we began a new tradition; each year on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of Fr. Martin’s passing, we will have a second collection at all our masses for Operation Starfish®,” said Fr. Cilinski. “Thus Fr. Martin and his legacy of love for the poor will be remembered in our parish at a special time each year, with prayer and a tangible expression of mercy toward the weakest and poorest among us.

“As the wicker baskets were being passed Fr. Martin spoke to us,” said Fr. Cilinski. “Remember Haiti.”

Fr. Martin’s legacy already has given new life to the first 40 families who have received keys to their new Food For The Poor homes in Good Shepherd Village. The village will be built out over the course of three years, and will combine the latest technology, construction techniques, and community development programs. The village ultimately will contain 120 houses, solar lighting, a community center, a health clinic, agriculture projects, and a kindergarten. The residents will receive life-skills training to ensure they can take advantage of all the programs offered.

Also in attendance was Father Keith O’Hare, pastor of the Bánica Mission in the Dominican Republic, from the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va.

Earlier this year, Church of the Nativity also used Operation Starfish® proceeds to support Food For The Poor’s Payen Fish Farming project and Honduras Fishing Boat project.

Food For The Poor’s Operation Starfish® program has five arms of aid to transform the living conditions of destitute families. These programs include food, water, housing, education, and micro-enterprise opportunities.

Those interested in starting an Operation Starfish® program at their parish, school, or organization can visit or call 877-654-2960 ext. 6219. Parishes nationwide also participate in Operation Starfish programs during Lent, Vacation Bible Study sessions, Christmas in July celebrations, Back to School fundraisers, and in preparation for Advent.

Food For The Poor, named by The Chronicle of Philanthropy as the largest international relief and development organization in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 95 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor. For more information, please visit

Jennifer Leigh Oates

Food For The Poor
Public Relations Associate
954-427-2222 x 6054



With funds donated in memory of Fr. Dick Martin, and the proceeds of Nativity’s 2014 Operation Starfish® Lenten Campaign, Food For The Poor began development of Good Shepherd Village in Haiti. On April 27, 2015 I visited the project site with Delane Bailey-Herd (FFP Florida) and Kate Evarts, and Kender from FFP-Haiti. My last site inspection was in October 2014.


On this latest trip I found 40 houses completed and occupied. The dirt road from Grand Boulage to Dalon has been improved, although it is still very steep and rough; we got stuck for a while until we could add weight to the vehicle and gain traction. The primary school (L’Ecole Nationale de la Ferriere) is completed and now accommodates over 600 students. Work on the regional marketplace is completed, with most of the stalls occupied on market day (Monday) and the abbatoir nearly finished. The administration and warehouse buildings still need finishing work. While in Good Shepherd Village on April 27, we broke ground for the community center, which is part of the Phase 2 development in 2015.


Phase I of the construction program called for building 40 houses, with solar lighting, sanitation and rainwater storage; building a primary school for 650 students (with funds from another donor); implementing an “after-school program” for those children who failed the national exams and cannot continue their education; training adults in sanitation and good health practices; building a 150-stall regional market; and supporting the community with social development services. This work is now completed. A drinking water distribution system (with funds from another donor), originally planned for 2015, has been completed ahead of schedule.

In 2015 and 2016, 80 more houses will be built, along with a community center, a pre-school/kindergarten facility, health clinic, and agricultural assistance program. The 2014 work was fully funded and funding for the 2015 work will be at FFP the end of May, 2015. The Haitian government is covering the operating and maintenance costs for the school. In 2015 and 2016, we anticipate that Nativity’s Operation Starfish will provide sufficient funds to complete the project. There are also four additional churches involved in supporting home building with Nativity (St. Joseph in Crescent Springs, KY; St. Joseph in Hope Valley, RI; St. Joseph Catholic Daughters in Sykesville, MD; and St. Mary of Sorrows in Fairfax, VA)