WETHERSFIELD - Come down to the Wethersfield farmer’s market on any given Thursday through October and one of the first stands you’ll see is Gingers’ Jelly and Jams.
Based in Wethersfield with an array of recipes assembled with the products of Connecticut farmers, the business is about as local as one can get, but its impact over the past 12 years or so has been much large in scope.
Owner Ginger Smith raises between $9,000 and $10,000 per year for an orphanage in Honduras. The donations are a combination of business proceeds--she sells the popular jellies and jams during the warmer months and makes soup for the winter--and local fundraising events. But Smith doesn’t just write a check and mail it. She travels to the country multiple times every year to look after the children that have become a second family to her.
“I started going two times a year and sometimes three,” Smith said. “It’s just what I want to do. I love the kids.”
And over the years and countless trips, she has had a chance to watch many of them grow up.
“There was a nine-year-old boy who wouldn’t leave my side,” Smith said. “And he’s my boy, but he’s 22 now.”
A retired physical therapist, Smith originally traveled to Honduras as a part of a medical mission. That was when she discovered the Copprome Orphanage in El Progresso. The orphanage, which shelters children ages 2-16, depends entirely on donations from individuals like Smith because it receives no government funding, she said.
There are around 45 children staying at the orphanage at a given time, according to Smith.
“They could probably hold 60, but they don’t have the finances for it,” she said.
As a result, Smith has found herself providing Copprome with money for everything from food and clothes to fuel for its school bus.
“It depends on when I get there and what they need at that time,” she said. “And that’s what I buy. A fan for the kitchen--the hot as bloody blazes kitchen. I buy clothes. Last time they all got new sandals.”
Food-wise, she has brought the children everything from pizza to cookies and other desserts. But Smith tries to encourage healthy eating, as well. Her trips included teaching the children and staff how to grow vegetables. In fact, the seeds she used came from Wethersfield as well. The locally-based Heart Seed Company has equipped her to establish the orphanage’s own garden.
One year Smith helped them to set up a chicken coop, and she even bought the chickens.
“They’re becoming more self-sufficient now because of the chickens, eggs and gardening, but what they desperately need is a new school bus,” Smith said.
Not to mention the opportunity to attend school beyond eighth grade--something that is not guaranteed in the absence of post-middle school public education. Nationwide, only 30 percent of children attend high school, according to the Borgen Project, a nonprofit focused on anti-poverty initiatives. The orphanage, which was founded in 1986, just saw its first boy complete high school and move on to attend college last year, Smith said.
“A few girls have gone, two or three, but that was the first boy and he’s been there since he was one,” she said.