MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - For Ron Hicks it started with a motorcycle ride through Central America, Honduras to be exact. "It was just an adventure, a vacation," said Hicks.
An adventure that turned out to be far more than Hicks bargained for. Life-altering, soul-stirring. Hicks felt the tug of a little girl while waiting to cross the border into El Salvador.
"I looked down. She was a dirty little thing, covered with soot and her hair was matted," said Hicks.
This is when Hicks reached into his pocket and pulled out three coins.
"I put them in her hand and at that point we made eye contact," Hicks said.
Eyes of hunger, the face of innocence, an image Ron Hicks couldn't shake for the rest of his motorcycle journey and his subsequent trip back to the United States.
"It was not a haunting look but a pleasant one," said Hicks.
So Mr. Hicks decided to investigate. He went back to Honduras and found the little girl. Her name was Anabel Padea.. about 9 years old at the time. Hicks also discovered something else, something that changed him inside.
"It can't be coincidental. When I asked the teacher why she wasn't in school, she said, 'well, she's hungry. That's normal. 70% of my children come to school hungry," Hicks said.
Today, you are reading about the man who started Lunches for Learning.
"The primary goal is to reduce the cycle of poverty in Honduras by providing nutritious lunches for the elementary school children at the schools," Hicks said.
Those lunches include meat, corn or wheat, a glass of milk and a daily vitamin.
A non-profit group based in Montgomery Lunches for Learning currently feeds more than 1,300 children in 21 very rural schools in what's known as the Valle district located in the southern, mountainous region of Honduras.
Most of the donations to fund Lunches for Learning come from Alabama, according to Hicks.
Lunches for Learning board member Kristi Holzimmer still can't get over the enormous joy the children feel in the midst of poverty, all due to Ron Hicks who simply delivered hope.
Holzimmer has made two trips to Honduras with Mr. Hicks.
"They respond so favorably to him and they're so appreciative," Holzimmer said.
By all accounts Lunches for Learning is working.
"This past year I believe 150 6th graders graduated. Without Lunches for Learning maybe 50 would have graduated. If child gets through 6th grade they have an interview for a job," said Hicks.
Whatever happened to Anabel Padea? The little girl who changed Ron Hicks' life. It turns out he changed hers, too.
"Anabel will start the 7th grade, and she's doing fine," Hicks said with a smile.
Ron Hicks says his biggest regret is he isn't able to do more, but from the looks of what's going on in the Valle community today compared to more than 5 years ago, Hicks has made a difference.
Just as Anabel Padea did.
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