A few days before Christmas, while others were busy shopping and wrapping last-minute gifts, 12 people from Fairlawn Community Church in Cogan Station were packing their bags in preparation for a mission trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The group organized by Ed and Barb Bornemann, who have traveled to the third-world country numerous times, planned to spend 10 days between Christmas and New Year's Day helping at Christian Light School and Orphanage in Port-au-Prince, as the country continues to struggle to rebuild in the wake of the January 2010 earthquake that ravaged the island nation.
"This is our fourth group trip, and we're really pleased about it," Barb said. "We pick this time of year because of the availability of the college students."
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
Randy Webster, of Cogan Station, top photo, a first-time missionary to Port-au-Prince in Haiti, packs supplies into a suitcase at Fairlawn Community Church in Cogan Station.
Mike Rhone, one of the volunteers, has made the trip twice before, but he still feels called to return because to him the need remains so great.
Rhone said he and some others would help rebuild and fix a few buildings, including installing a kitchen sink in one building where there hasn't been one in more than a year.
"It's rewarding to work with kids and help them," he said. "Some of us will fix things, and others will run a Vacation Bible School."
Rhone said the VBS is important because many of the kids who live in the slums of the city only get a meal when school is in session.
School will be out of session for the holidays when the group arrives, and the VBS will allow them to serve a meal to those children.
"The kids will get fed spiritually and physically," Rhone said.
Rhone's daughter and newlywed Mandi Fair, who also made the trip last year, said each time the group travels to the school they bring much needed supplies.
Chief among this year's offerings is peanut butter - and lots of it.
Fair, who was married about a week before traveling to Haiti, said the group collected 100 pounds of peanut butter that will be used to make peanut butter balls. The balls then will be used to help feed starving children, many of whom are not orphans.
"Sometimes the kids who have parents are worse off than the orphans because at least the orphans are guaranteed meals," she said, noting much of the country lives in poverty. "Peanut butter has a lot of protein, and it doesn't take a lot of peanut butter to feed a lot people."
Fair said she is excited to go back to the school and see kids and how much they've grown.
"They're my friends now," she said. "I go back because I feel called. It's devastating, but nothing compares with the blessings we get in return."
In addition to the peanut butter, the group took 14 suitcases filled with donations and supplies for the school. Among the other items were croc-style shoes, clocks, clothing, pillows and shoes.
While Fair and her father are veterans of the trip, Barb said the group always picks up a few people who never have been on an international mission trip before, but they are inspired by the work the volunteers are doing.
Among the newest additions to the team is Stephanie Hunsucker, a physical fitness student at Pennsylvania College of Technology.
Every year after the group returns from Haiti they hold a luncheon to talk about what they did. Hunsucker said after attending one of the luncheons she was inspired to join the cause.
"I've always wanted to do mission work," she said. "This is a great opportunity to do it."
The Penn College student also said the trip is her first out of the country and she was looking forward to the new experience.
"I'm excited to open up my eyes to see how God will expand our knowledge and help other people," Hunsucker said.