CELEBRATE COMMUNITY: Mission Love Seeds plants seeds of hope

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“I remember putting together the 10-year anniversary newsletter and it was mind-boggling to think what we accomplished. We are truly blessed to be a blessing for others.”

JENNIE McKEON @JennieMnwfdn

DESTIN — Mission Love Seeds began with 600 pounds of rice and a big heart.

It was toward the end of 2004 when Barbi Carroll made friends with Fely Zapanta, who was working as a housekeeper in Destin.

“She showed me photos of her home in the Philippines and her family,” Carroll recalled. “I noticed these red bags sitting by her family’s feet and I asked her, ‘What are those?’ “

Zapanta explained they were bags of rice. She worked to send home as much food as she could to her family who lived without basic necessities such as running water. Immediately Carroll jumped into action and decided to send 600 pounds of rice for Christmas to her new friend’s home village in the Philippines.

Carroll’s friends and clients from her cleaning business were inspired by the act and started gathering other donations to send.

“Everytime I would tell someone about it, they would ask, ‘Well, what else do they need?’ ” Carroll said.

After that first donation, there was no stopping. Mission Love Seeds, Inc. began and has expanded its reach in 13 years of charity.

“We’ve worked in Haiti, hand dug a water well in Kenya, and in the Philippines, Mission Love Seeds has built five churches, two schools and two libraries,” Carroll said.

Zapanta has since returned home to the Philippines to be the lead coordinator of charity efforts for Mission Love Seeds. She is the only paid member of the organization, making about $400 a month to oversee operations.

Mission Love Seeds also recognizes the people in need along the Emerald Coast. The organization takes donations of furniture and home goods which are kept at a local storage unit until someone needs them. In the past, they’ve helped furnish homes for veterans and single moms who are starting over. When Hurricane Irma hit South Florida, Carroll’s home became the central location for donations.

“We had stuff in our garage, our porch and all over our house. We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies on Indian Bayou,” Carroll said with a laugh.

In early October, Destin Fire Department helped load the donations into a tractor-trailer, which Carroll and her husband drove to Immokalee.

Behind Mission Love Seeds are several dedicated volunteers — Carroll calls them her “angels.”

“Everyone has just jumped on board,” she said. “We have support from as far away as California.”

Carroll said as long as she’s alive, she will be working to better the lives of people near and far.

“It doesn’t matter where they live,” Carroll said. “They’re our brothers and sisters. Why not help them? Sometimes, it’s hard to make people understand unless they’ve seen it. Some of these people we serve make less than $1 a day. They’re very lucky if they eat one meal a day.”

In 2005, Carroll took her first trip to the Philippines and saw the living conditions of the villages she was supporting. It was hard to witness, but Carroll’s husband reminded her that she had to be strong to continue the work of Mission Love Seeds.

“I saw children eating out of bags of trash left outside restaurants,” she said. “When you tried to stop them, they just said ‘masarap’, which means delicious.”

With the holiday season coming up, Mission Love Seeds is working to collect as many toy and food donations as possible for the kids it serves in orphanages in the Philippines, kids living on the Emerald Coast and kids who are still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Irma.

“There’s a great need everywhere,” Carroll said. “I can’t take the credit for our work. Our volunteers go above and beyond. Some have already finished their Christmas shopping for the kids.”

Of course, Carroll never thought that first donation of rice would grow to become more than a decade of giving. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I remember putting together the 10-year anniversary newsletter and it was mind-boggling to think what we accomplished,” she said. “We are truly blessed to be a blessing for others.”

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