Lifestyle

In Gene we trust

Six days — that’s how long Gene White has been home. The mail is piled high in her Clinton residence. Her suitcase remains half open and her house is still a new acquaintance. Her cat, Molly, is craving for attention.

Gene White is happy to be home, but her mind is somewhere else. As she sits at the table in her kitchen, staring out over Possession Sound, she’s deep in thought. She’s supposed to be writing a book about the history of school nutrition in the U.S., but she finds it hard to sit down and write about feeding children when there are children to be fed. There is too much to do.

Since graduating from Ohio State University with a master’s degree in nutrition in the early 1960s, White has worked in the school food services field. Primarily focusing her duties in the state of California, her jobs have been at the district level building up to eight years spent as the assistant superintendent for the state of California in the 1980s. She has been a longtime volunteer with the American Schools Food Service Association, an organization for which she is past president.

After retiring to Whidbey 10 years ago, White has stepped up her volunteer efforts of working with the American Schools Food Service Association, the United Nations World Food Program and other organizations. She often travels the world and the nation to work with governments and communities to help feed children. It is not always an easy task.

Helping in a hungry world

An hour after arriving in Paraguay on one of the trips she has made there over the past decade she met with the country’s minister of education who told her, “We have learned we cannot teach a hungry child.”

She agreed. The political turmoil at the time, however, didn’t agree with the efforts of White and other visiting humanitarians. They were facing an election year where the president was thrown in jail and rioting was everywhere. The day she left the country, protesters were beating drums and chanting in the streets outside her borrowed office.

She left feeling she didn’t make a difference.

“We didn’t leave them with much,” she said. “But when going to these different countries I’ve made myself realize that we are planting seeds that I may never see immerse in my lifetime. We’re not always going to have something to show for it.”

While in Africa, she saw nations decimated by AIDS, poverty and war.

“Whole families were wiped out,” she said.

She visited South Africa shortly after Nelson Madela became the first democratically elected state president of South Africa in May 1994.

“Mandela promised in his inauguration speech he would have food in the schools within 100 days and we went to work,” she said.

Mandela did his part by taking half of his salary and buying sandwiches.

“To this day a sandwich in South Africa is referred to as a Mandela sandwich,” White said.

White did her part and worked with the United Nations Agency for International development to help feed 850,000 starving kids using food sent by the United States — simple staples like flour, oil and rice.

September 2003 found her in Bogata, Colombia, surrounded by sharp shooters to protect her.

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