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Working together for Touch of Hope Haiti | News – nwestiowa.com

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Updated: September 29, 2022 @ 3:14 am

Glenda Vermeer, Joyce Santema, Sarah Weber and Kayla Raymond prepare to load boxes of homemade pickles into waiting vehicles on Sept. 7. Proceeds from the sale will support Touch of Hope Haiti.
Mary Swets of Sioux Center and Julie Green of Boyden run apples through a mill on the Noteboom farm in rural Orange City. The group raised about $25,000 for Touch of Hope Haiti.
Apples for the Touch of Hope Haiti fundraiser were gathered from area trees the night before applesauce making day at a farm in rural Orange City.
Volunteers prepare to load boxes of homemade pickles into a vehicle at a farm outside Orange City. All proceeds of their sale benefit Touch of Hope Haiti, a ministry started by a Rock Rapids family.
Jamie Dolieslager, a professor at Bethel University in Minnesota, comes back to N’West Iowa each summer, and she grows the hundreds of cucumbers that eventually become pickles for the Touch of Hope Haiti annual fundraiser each year.
Joe Schott of Sheldon slices apples into chunks before the boil during an applesauce-making day near Orange City on Sept. 7. All proceeds from the sale of homemade applesauce and pickles benefit Touch of Hope Haiti, a nonprofit organization founded by a Rock Rapids family.
Glenda Vermeer and Kayla Raymond pose for a photo on a rural Orange City farm on Sept. 7. Volunteers convened to make applesauce for a fundraiser benefitting Touch of Hope Haiti, an organization co-founded by Raymond.
Volunteers tend to pots of simmering apples during an applesauce-making day on a farm near Orange City on Sept. 7. All proceeds go to benefit Touch of Hope Haiti, a nonprofit founded by a Rock Rapids family.
Glenda Vermeer and Joyce Santema load boxes of homemade pickles into waiting vehicles on Sept. 7 on a farm near Orange City. Proceeds from the sale will support Touch of Hope Haiti.
Jars of pickles, including dill, bread-and-butter and lime varieties, are ready to be loaded and distributed. The sale of the homemade pickles goes to benefit Touch of Hope Haiti, an organization founded by a Rock Rapids family.

Glenda Vermeer, Joyce Santema, Sarah Weber and Kayla Raymond prepare to load boxes of homemade pickles into waiting vehicles on Sept. 7. Proceeds from the sale will support Touch of Hope Haiti.
ORANGE CITY—On a recent afternoon, the largest outbuilding on a farm near Orange City was filled with steam and fragrant with apples.
Outside the door were palettes of home-canned pickles — Mason jars filled with dill, bread-and-butter and lime. The lime pickles, an old-fashioned variety, shone electric green in the sunshine.
Inside the building, more than a dozen volunteers, most of them women, hauled buckets of apples, ran applesauce mills or tended to the long row of bubbling metal pots on a makeshift system of burners.
In one corner, 88-year-old Joe Schott of Sheldon forcefully pressed one apple after another through the apple cutter, a metal device rigged up to a piece of plywood, which had a hole carved into it.
“I’ve done hundreds of these,” Schott said.
Joe Schott of Sheldon slices apples into chunks before the boil during an applesauce-making day near Orange City on Sept. 7. All proceeds from the sale of homemade applesauce and pickles benefit Touch of Hope Haiti, a nonprofit organization founded by a Rock Rapids family.
The bucket at his feet slowly filled with apples, dropping through the plywood hole. Once one bucket was full, it was replaced with another empty one, the apples whisked away to the simmering station.
All the old-fashioned work — pickle making, which happened weeks earlier, and applesauce making — is for a cause.
The proceeds from the sale of the homemade items go to support the nonprofit organization Touch of Hope Haiti, founded in 2011 by Renae and Dell Grooters of Rock Rapids. Their daughter, Kayla Raymond, runs Rosie’s Boutique in Rock Rapids. Its proceeds go to support the organization.
This is the fourth year the group has gathered to crank out hundreds of gallons of warm applesauce, which get stacked neatly in square, gallon-size ice cream buckets and eventually delivered across the region to those who put in orders via phone call or Facebook.
Mary Swets of Sioux Center and Julie Green of Boyden run apples through a mill on the Noteboom farm in rural Orange City. The group raised about $25,000 for Touch of Hope Haiti.
“This year, we have orders for 210 ice cream buckets,” said 67-year-old Glenda Vermeer, wiping her forehead and preparing to start loading palettes of pickles into the back of a car. The farm, which belongs to Vermeer’s brother, Jeff Noteboom, is where she grew up.
As of that afternoon, Vermeer also had orders for 191 jars of dill pickles, 180 for lime pickles and 143 for bread-and-butter.
“A lot of people who are my age, or older, grew up with these pickles — home-canned pickles — and that’s done less and less. So, it’s a memory purchase, I think, for some of them. My pickles take longer than the others, so a lot of people don’t want to take the time,” Vermeer said.
The jars of pickles and gallons of applesauce are priced at $10 each, but many who buy them see the purchase as an opportunity to support the ministry with a larger donation.
“Many give a lot more,” Vermeer said.
Jars of pickles, including dill, bread-and-butter and lime varieties, are ready to be loaded and distributed. The sale of the homemade pickles goes to benefit Touch of Hope Haiti, an organization founded by a Rock Rapids family.
Jamie Dolieslager, a professor at Bethel University in Minnesota, comes back to N’West Iowa each summer, and she grows the hundreds of cucumbers that eventually fill pickle jars.
The fundraiser is a community effort. The night before the applesauce-making day, picking crews visited apple trees within a two-mile radius of the farm, where owners of apple trees have offered their fruit for the annual fundraiser.
Adult and teenage pickers gathered hundreds upon hundreds of apples, representing a number of local varieties. Many of the apples heaped in buckets and pails at the Vermeer farm were bright green, others blushing with pink, many speckled and imperfect.
Vermeer has personal ties to Touch of Hope Haiti, and she has traveled several times to the country to pitch in with the ministry’s building projects and contribute in a variety of ways to its work in the impoverished country.
In Haiti, the faith-based ministry’s focus is the small village of Simonette, north of the nation’s capital, where a growing school and orphanage employ Haitian teachers and staff members provide a tuition-free education for children for whom education would otherwise be out of reach.
Apples for the Touch of Hope Haiti fundraiser were gathered from area trees the night before applesauce making day at a farm in rural Orange City.
“Haiti does not have a public school system, and so the schools that are there are private, and they’re expensive. They’re run more as businesses,” said organization co-founder Raymond. “It is a huge, huge burden for parents to be able to pay school fees. Less than 5 percent of kids will even graduate high school. So, that’s our dream — just to see this next generation be empowered and educated.”
To that end, the Simonette school has been expanding. The student population has grown from around 30 to nearly 1,200. It now serves students in preschool through 12th grade, and for the fourth year this year, the school will have a graduating class.
With the addition of two new buildings this summer — there are now six — the school will shift to offering a full day of classes for all students rather than half days.
“Culturally, it’s a huge change that we’re implementing,” Raymond said.
Glenda Vermeer and Kayla Raymond pose for a photo on a rural Orange City farm on Sept. 7. Volunteers convened to make applesauce for a fundraiser benefitting Touch of Hope Haiti, an organization co-founded by Raymond.
Full days mean students will receive more academic instruction, something their parents may be unable to offer given their own lack of access to education. Students also may get an additional meal each day — breakfast — but Raymond said the organization still is determining whether it can raise enough funds to support the addition of another meal.
“All the kids do get a hot meal at the school each day, and we estimate that for more than 50 percent of them, that’s the only meal they’ll have a day,” Raymond said. “So, that’s super important to us.”
Raymond, who is 33, is married to Webert Raymond, who is Haitian and grew up in Simonette. The Raymonds, who lived in Haiti until moving to Rock Rapids in 2019, have six children between the ages of 1 and 15; three of them were adopted from Haiti and three are biological.
The Grooters family founded Touch of Hope Haiti after forming a friendship with Webert more than 10 years ago when they visited the makeshift school he had started in Simonette. In a country where education is accessible only to the wealthy, Webert, whose family was not wealthy, had the good fortune to receive an education that continued past high school. He returned to his village after attending trade school in Port-au-Prince and started a tuition-free school for the children in his village.
Raymond founded Rosie’s Boutique in 2015. Under the umbrella of Touch of Hope Haiti, the store’s sales all benefit the ministry; however, its primary function is to stimulate job creation in Haiti.
Glenda Vermeer and Joyce Santema load boxes of homemade pickles into waiting vehicles on Sept. 7 on a farm near Orange City. Proceeds from the sale will support Touch of Hope Haiti.
Until recently, Rosie’s had brick-and-mortar stores selling handcrafted, Haitian-made goods in Rock Rapids and Haiti. The store in the city of Cabaret is closed for the foreseeable future due to unrest in Haiti, but its Rock Rapids location is going strong.
The Rock Rapids boutique, which also houses a small coffee shop, continues to source goods from a number of Haitian businesses. Rosie’s also produces its own line of greeting cards, made of banana and vetiver leaves and handcrafted by Rosie’s team of employees in Haiti.
“The store is unfortunately closed, but our 30 mamas who make the greeting cards are still working at full capacity. We’re shipping back and forth,” Raymond said. “I have an amazing Haitian manager — she’s running it. So, they’re all still fully employed.”
Volunteers prepare to load boxes of homemade pickles into a vehicle at a farm outside Orange City. All proceeds of their sale benefit Touch of Hope Haiti, a ministry started by a Rock Rapids family.
Rosie’s Boutique is named after Raymond’s Haitian goddaughter, who died from a respiratory infection when she was 13 months old. Raymond remains a close friend of Rosie’s mother, Judeline, who is the production manager for the jewelry company, Beljoy, whose products Rosie’s Boutique carries.
The closure of the store in Cabaret reflects a precipitous drop in tourism to the island nation. Haiti is roiling with political and economic turmoil — crime and inflation rates are skyrocketing, and in the nation’s capital, Port Au Prince, there are protests and gang violence in the streets.
“It’s insanity,” Raymond said. “Six months ago Haiti had the highest rate of kidnapping per capita. It’s very unsafe. And I don’t know what it’s going to take to take a turn, to make it better.”
In early April, the Raymonds made a trip back to Webert’s home country to introduce their new daughter, who is now 1, to family members living in Haiti. However, the family’s trips have become fewer and further between.
“I wish we could go back and forth way more than we can, but the instability makes it very hard,” Raymond said.
In tiny Simonette, which is peaceful, the school remains open, employing around 80 Haitian teachers and staff members. In Rock Rapids and online, Rosie’s sales remain strong.
Touch of Hope remains committed to its mission, and Raymond is steadfast.
“I just know this is the way to help rise people out of poverty — education and job creation,” Raymond said.
Churches, community members and other organizations in N’West Iowa are supporting the ministry’s efforts.
On the Vermeer farm earlier this month, as Raymond and Vermeer surveyed palettes of pickles and gallons of applesauce, they reminisced about their experiences together on the Caribbean island — mountainous, lush, full of people with a desire to overcome their circumstances and live full lives.
“Last time you were in Haiti, we got lost in the mountains,” Raymond said, reminding Vermeer of her most recent trip to the country several years ago, when the Raymond family still lived there.
Volunteers tend to pots of simmering apples during an applesauce-making day on a farm near Orange City on Sept. 7. All proceeds go to benefit Touch of Hope Haiti, a nonprofit founded by a Rock Rapids family.
The two had set out with a few other Iowa visitors in tow to check out a small business in the mountains that made paper by hand from banana and vetiver leaves, both abundant on the island. Raymond, who was driving, missed a turn.
“We literally ended up going around an entire mountain range,” Raymond said.
Her daughter, a 1½ at the time, eventually became car sick, and what would have been a 20-minute trip extended to hours.
“I’m thinking, ‘This paper better be amazing,’” Raymond said. “And the paper is amazing, and now we do an entire line using the paper, and we’re ordering thousands of sheets of paper every couple months.”
Jamie Dolieslager, a professor at Bethel University in Minnesota, comes back to N’West Iowa each summer, and she grows the hundreds of cucumbers that eventually become pickles for the Touch of Hope Haiti annual fundraiser each year.
Vermeer, when asked why she goes to the work of organizing the pickle and applesauce fundraiser each year, responded by addressing Raymond.
“I do it because I love your family,” Vermeer said. “And I love what you’re doing in Haiti.”
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