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The Mitchell missionaries of lysine corn.

THE MITCHELL MISSIONARIES OF LYSINE CORN

Before Hollace and Ila Sherwood, retired school-teachers, read the March 1985 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, they had never held a starving child or stood on the dirt floor of a Honduran church.

But the magazine's photographs of Ethiopian children dying from lack of protein inspired them to plant a special type of corn to save lives in the Third World.

Since then, they have twice traveled hundreds of miles from the rolling hills and sycamore trees of their Mitchell, Indiana, farm to make sure the food got to the children who needed it.

"We saw that article and we said, 'We've got to do something about it,'" Ila Sherwood said. "Hollace knew how to grow that corn. He said he didn't know why we couldn't do something."

The article described Purdue University research which showed that a type of corn developed by the school could prevent kwashiorkor, a fatal disease caused by protein deficiency. The corn is high in the amino acid lysine, which the body needs as a protein building block.

Although adults can survive protein deficiencies, children must have protein for growth and to build muscle and brain cells.

Ila Sherwood remembers their trip to Haiti two years ago, when an American missionary handed her a baby girl wearing a handmade yellow dress.

"Under that pretty dress I felt her stomach sticking out. That really got to me," Ila Sherwood said. "That was the first time I held a starving child."

Protein deficiency allows fluid to seep into body tissue, causing bloating of the stomach while the arms remain spindly. The children lose their appetites and become susceptible to measles, cholera, and infections.

"The research shows a little bit of high-lysine corn would stop this," Ila Sherwood said. "A child could live on high-lysine corn alone if he got about three-fourths of a pound a day."

High-lysine corn is rarely available, however. It comes from a special seed and usually is grown in the United States only as hog or chicken feed, although the cornmeal is available in some health food stores at an inflated price.

Determined to help the fragile children they saw in the photographs, the Sherwoods wrote the Post with an offer. They would plant ten acres of high-lysine corn if the magazine would ensure that it was delivered to hungry children.

The Post put the Sherwoods in touch with the David Livingstone Foundation in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The nonprofit foundation told the Sherwoods there were political and logistical problems with getting food into Ethiopia. Instead, it arranged for the Sherwoods' first 1,200 bags of high-lysine corn to go to earthquake victims in Mexico City.

"We told them that we didn't care where [the corn] went, as long as it went to hungry children," Hollace Sherwood said.

Now the Sherwoods, both 66, plant 100 acres of high-lysine corn each year and ask for volunteers to help bag it for transportation. A handful of church organizations have shipped almost 11,000 60-pound bags of corn to Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, and most recently Rumania.

The Sherwoods' own church, the Bryantsville Church of Christ, which draws 35 parishioners on a good Sunday, has taken over the job of paying for the bags and the seed. To cover those costs, the church accepts donations and gives the Sherwoods $3.60 per bag.

The Sherwoods, who divide their time between the farm and part-time teaching jobs, donate land, time, and labor. A farm hand plants and harvests the crop in exchange for rent.

Although Ila Sherwood often prepares a big country dinner for anyone who will help her husband bag the corn, Hollace sometimes goes to the barn alone, holding the plastic feed sacks as kernels stream out of a chute in the sunlit loft.

When 700 bags are ready, they will be loaded into a truck that will be provided by one of the organizations that aid the Sherwoods. The corn goes to groups that rely on local churches to dole out the food. The distribution is monitored in Haiti and Honduras to make sure the corn is kept off the black market.

In Honduras, the couple climbed a dirt path up a steep hill to see two bags of their corn stored in a small cinder block church.

"I thought how much work and time it took to get those bags up that path. But they did it," Ila Sherwood said. "You see, that's the place they distribute the corn from."

Sitting in the kitchen eating apple cake and ice cream, the Sherwoods marveled at the things they had done and the generous people they had met since they began their enterprise.

"It still amazes us that what we're doing ends up in Honduras," Hollace Sherwood said.

"It all started because of The Saturday Evening Post," Ila Sherwood added.

"We're the most unlikely missionaries, but I guess that's what we are."
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Title Annotation:Post article inspires Hollace and Ila Sherwood of Indiana to provide high-lysine corn for Third World children
Author:Cass, Connie
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Words:821
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