The Beginning of the Outreach Program: The Story of the Baskets

Floyd and Kathy Hammer wanted to enjoy retirement and sail the world. But a friend invited them to go to Tanzania, East Africa, to remodel an old leprosy hospital and to build an AIDs hospice. Floyd owned a construction company, among many other successful businesses (he and Kathy also created and owned the first plastics recycling factory in the United States), and they were a perfect fit!

In 2003, Floyd and Kathy made their first trip to Tanzania to the remote Nkungi village in Singida Region, for a two-month construction program. While working in the region, they were shocked with the amount of desperation and hunger. Floyd and Kathy returned to the village in January 2004 — Floyd to his construction project, and Kathy to her work in the hospital. When they saw the fifth little child die of hunger, Kathy cried to Floyd, “We have to do something! We can’t allow these children to die like this!”

Floyd purchased truckloads of maize (corn) which were brought to the village. The people in the village were told that they could barter for the grain. Because Floyd and Kathy knew the villagers had almost nothing with which to trade, Floyd asked for construction supplies he knew people could easily find: sand, aggregate, and charcoal. The local pastor suggested “baskets”.

Floyd and Kathy were stunned the next morning when they saw hundreds of women rushing with their beautiful hand-woven grass baskets to the barter site. One by one, they traded baskets for grain. Since then, Outreach has purchased over 65,000 baskets! You may purchase these baskets on our website here.

Kathy asked the leaders of each village in the ward what they needed to make their villages sustainable. She asked for a prioritized list. All the village leaders and elders agreed that they needed four things: water, food, medicine, and education. The Outreach mission was created based on these locally identified needs. These four needs, referred to as cornerstones or pillars, have become the four promises of Outreach. The mission of Outreach is to provide safe water, food, medical care and education to children and those in need at home and abroad. After 10 years of working to fulfill these four Outreach promises, Floyd and Kathy were invited to the White House in 2013 by President Obama and former President Bush to receive the 5,000th Point of Light Award.

Floyd and Kathy have also been inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame and Outreach received the Global Empowerment Award by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Artist and Athletes Committee in 2013.

As a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, over the last 17 years Outreach has helped to package nearly 580 million meals that have been distributed across the United States and around the world.  Outreach Meal Packaging Events are conducted across the United States. These events engage businesses, religious and civic organizations, schools, and volunteers of all ages to package nutritious meals for the hungry. In response to numerous requests for meals focused on domestic hunger, Outreach partnered with Iowa State University’s Food Science Department to create nutritious and delicious meals with a domestic emphasis. You can find all of our meal selections here.

In addition to continuing its domestic efforts, Outreach is expanding its international foundation in Tanzania.  Earlier, Medical Mission teams traveled to the Singida Region providing surgical services and medical clinics.  Porta-Doc, a mobile medical clinic staffed with a medical officer, serves the rural communities of Ilunda Ward where medical care is very limited. Outreach has also built two Children’s Centers, one in Singida and one in Manyoni.  At each Center, Outreach provides a nutritious mid-day meal (if the children attend school), school uniforms, school supplies and tutoring to the most vulnerable children. At Singida, over 700 children are served each school day. The Manyoni Center, opened in August of 2014, serves over 650 children. You may sponsor a child at one of Children’s Centers here.

Potable water was a concern for Floyd and Kathy from the moment they landed in Tanzania. Cholera was a huge concern, and there had been many outbreaks. People could not be productive while suffering from waterborne illnesses. At Nkungi Village, one of the first things Floyd and the villagers repaired was the beautiful old windmill which had not pumped water for at least 15 years!
Its purpose was to provide water to the hospital and the entire village.

Floyd and Kathy found that villagers were spending hours carrying water by buckets or transporting it in barrels from the river or stream up the hill to be strained and boiled for use at the hospital. They recruited water specialists to travel to Tanzania to install sanitizing methods for wells, hospitals, schools, and villages. Read more about the Waterpoint System here. Villages have literally been transformed by their use of potable water.

Floyd and Kathy didn’t retire, they repurposed!