A recurring thump of empty 5-gallon buckets on concrete punctuated a hot afternoon at the Operation Ukraine warehouse in Columbus Wednesday. In spite of the heat, three children aged 12 and younger energetically sorted the donated containers like experienced pros. They have been doing it for the past five years. Doing that, and more.
“We’ve been volunteering as a family here since 2015,” said the youngsters’ dad, Matt Pearson, carrying buckets. So Aedynn, Paige and Malachi Pearson were much younger when they started learning what it means to help someone else. Matt and his wife, Allison, believe it’s a life lesson to instill early.
“I learned, and my wife learned, responsibility and chores in our early childhood, and we both feel like that gave us a strong work ethic,” said Matt, a Regions Bank branch manager and Mississippi State alumnus. “We want that for our children, too. We also realize we want them to be active members of their communities, wherever they end up.”
Imparting that began young, with baby steps, Matt said.
The family first became aware of Operation Ukraine as part of an outreach of Vibrant Church. Operation Ukraine is a nonprofit relief organization that collects items from food to medical supplies for global distribution. The Pearsons expanded their volunteer time there as a family. Early tasks for the kids were sometimes as simple as passing out water bottles, or taking a bucket to an older helper.
“We discovered that even our youngest kids were able to participate, even if it’s handing something from one box to the next so an adult could do what needed to be done with it,” Matt said. “Each thing completed was celebrated. We treat it as a family outing.”
As the children grew older, they became a veteran bucket-washing brigade. It’s a perpetual need at Operation Ukraine. Donated by Sqwincher Corp. in Lowndes County, empty buckets are cleaned and shipped primarily to Haiti, where many villagers have to trek long distances for water. The nonprofit’s founder and director Kathy Cadden has firsthand knowledge of the need, having spent much time on the ground there. Hurricane Matthew devastated the impoverished tropical country in 2016.
“In Haiti, a person has to work a whole day, and some a day and a half, to buy a bucket — and you must have a bucket to haul and store drinking water in,” said Cadden, adding that people line up for the free buckets she ships in. “Some come two and a half hours down a mountain to fill up buckets and put them on donkeys to go back up.”
Aedynn didn’t fully grasp the significance of buckets in 2015, but he’s 12 now and realizes how important each one he scrubs out can be.
“I’m more aware now that all people don’t actually live like we do,” he said. “We’re so privileged in America. It’s not like in parts of Ukraine and Haiti or those types of places, where they may have to walk a long way to get their water. We just have to walk to our sink.”
Malachi, now 8, likes pitching in to do something for people who may be very poor, he said, “to help them so they don’t suffer much more.”
At 10, Paige has become a trusted helper at sorting clothing and other items being shipped to underdeveloped countries. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, her focus turned to packing food boxes for people here who suffered a job loss or reduction.
“I think packing the food has been special,” Paige said. “It just makes me feel good that it’s helping somebody who possibly wouldn’t be able to be alive, because they may not have money to buy food.”
Food items and funds to purchase groceries were donated by staff at Matt’s bank branch on Highway 45 North. Other donors helped as well.
“Paige went with me to buy food, and we bought about $400 worth,” said Cadden, who had to use a scooter at the time due to a health issue. “I’m on a scooter, and here she is getting the (groceries), comparing prices and everything.” All three kids, along with their dad, helped pack boxes.
The Pearsons have five children, two very young. But in the past five years they also became foster parents. Their foster children have been introduced to volunteering at Operation Ukraine as well.
“Whatever we need to do to get out there as a family and give back a little bit,” Matt said, quiet-spoken.
Cadden values the unflagging commitment to teaching by example.
“Their kids are learning how to do physical giving, not just writing a check, but to give of their time, their energy,” she said. “He’s teaching them to share, and these kids are being taught to pray about people they know are sick or in need. He and Allison are raising kids with compassion. They’re teaching grace. They are raising their kids to be thinking people.”
“I feel like it’s what we’re called to do,” said Allison. “It’s the great commission. It’s showing the love of Christ that he’s shown to other people.”
Through the volunteer experience, the Pearsons hope the children develop a heart for others in need, a genuine sense of empathy.
“I’ve definitely seen a maturity and sense of compassion with them as they’ve gotten older,” commented their father.
Life lessons are taking hold, Cadden observed.
“Those kids are going to be good, strong kids for society,” she said. “They are very comfortable with who they are. They don’t have to have expensive clothes and stuff to be somebody. They are already somebody.”
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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