By Bill Hudson

COON RAPIDS, Minn. (WCCO) — Opening ceremonies are Tuesday evening in Blaine for the 32nd Annual Schwan’s USA Cup — and a U-12 girls’ team from Haiti will make its first ever trip. But before they take to the field, the team spent time paying it forward.

To most players at the USA Cup, there’s more thought put into kicking a ball, than finding their next meal. But for the U-12 girls soccer team from Haiti, sadly, starvation is a cruel reality. They are among most food insecure country in the western hemisphere.

“These kids aren’t just from the poorest country in western hemisphere, they’re from the poorest neighborhood,” Todd Herskovitz said.

Herskovitz is with the Sanneh Foundation, which is instrumental in providing opportunity through soccer to children in Haiti. Thanks to that effort, the Haitian girls will escape poverty to play as equals with children from around the world who are gathering in Blaine this week.

But their trip is about much more than just soccer. It’s also an opportunity to see the means by which their daily nutrition travels from a warehouse in Coon Rapids to the Haitian streets.

“The program is not about sports, as a sport. It’s never been about just teaching soccer. It’s about how to raise a new citizen and how to heal a society,” Herskovitz said.

To give the girls a glimpse of America’s care and compassion, they spent the afternoon helping out at Feed My Starving Children in Coon Rapids. After donning hair nets and washing hands, the team went to work filling the very “Manna Packs” they depend on for meals back home.

“Feed My Starving Children will produce about 280 million meals this year, with about one third of those meals going into Haiti,” Feed My Starving Children’s Judy Watke said.

With a little Haitian music to feel more at home, the girls went to work scooping vitamins and veggies, soy and rice into bags. The bags they packed on Monday will soon feed starving families in Nicaragua.

Speaking through an interpreter, Bebifoune Belizaire said it feels good to give back.

“Those people who are willing to help those who are starving are fine people to me because they are willing to help those who are dying of starvation,” she said.

A day of teamwork that was spent off the soccer field. Volunteering to give sustenance to the hungry, something they know all too well.