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The Maryland Salem Children's Trust: Home For Needy Children

About twenty-one boys and girls now live at the Maryland Salem Children's Trust, a residential home for children in need. They eat, sleep, and study on the 380-acre farm nestled in the Appalachian Mountain region of Western Maryland. Many are emotionally disturbed. Most have been abused or neglected. And all, every last one, goes veggie.

Gottfried Mueller founded the first Salem village in Bavaria, Germany, in 1968 to provide a home for needy children. Mueller, who had spent five years in confinement during World War II after being dropped into enemy territory during an air mission, vowed to spend his remaining days, should he survive the ordeal, "in the service of life itself." With Salem, he did just that, creating a place which would bring countless children a sense of mental, spiritual, and physical peace.

The first Salem home in the US emerged in 1978 in Huntingtown, Maryland, when Louise Sutermeister, who had worked at Salem villages in Germany, founded the Maryland Salem Children's Trust. Sutermeister, now Louise Richards, fashioned the American community (which has since relocated to Garrett County, Maryland) after those abroad. Like their European counterparts, children at Maryland Salem are taught that each individual has been specially created by God to serve a divine purpose. Such knowledge theoretically gives the children the sense of self-worth necessary to begin healing the wounds of abuse and neglect.

This philosophy, according to Salem's founder, encompasses the premise that all life is fundamentally connected to God. The concept of all life, of course, includes animals. Thus Salem has been, from its very inception, vegetarian, for members of the community wish not to harm God's creatures.

When children arrive at Maryland Salem, the Food Service and Nutrition Coordinator and others explain that non-meat diets are better for their bodies. Vegetarians, they are taught, experience reduced chances of suffering from cancer or heart attacks. "We tell them we want animals to be our friends," and also that animals raised for their meat are frequently treated badly. "I tell them that God has told us to take care of the animals and we don't want to see them hurt, or to take part in that hurting," says Louise. Some of the children are very willing to try it; others are resistant. Regardless, meat products are not allowed on Salem property.

Usually the children haven't experienced what a healthy diet is all about prior to arriving at Salem. And a healthy diet is certainly what they'll find. For the most part, minimally processed foods are utilized, and great use of fruit, vegetables, rice, pasta, and grains is made. The children, who currently range in age from nine to eighteen, count spaghetti, vegetable lasagna, and courage burger potpie among their favorites.

The idea of preparing vegetarian meals for up to thirty-two children at a time may seem daunting, but "it doesn't seem so difficult now." Certain natural foods companies send Louise recipes, as do some vegetarian-oriented organizations. She says, "we try to be kid-friendly" as well as to do as much preparation ahead of time as possible in order to make meal-time successful.

While vegetarianism may initially strike some of the youngsters as strange and confusing (a child once asked whether a baked potato was a real baked potato), most seem to adapt fairly well. Horseback riding therapy, no doubt, aids in the transition. By caring for the horses, Louise explains, "the children bond with them and that empathy helps them understand why we don't want to harm animals."

Children ravaged by abuse may have such difficulty trusting anyone that they are unable to form intimate relationships with other human beings, especially if those relationships are to include any kind of physical contact. Animals may be perceived as less threatening than humans. A bond a child forms with a horse, which is intrinsically accepting and comforting, may help a child form a relationship with another human, and revive his or her sense of compassion. In fact, the very first horses that came to the original Salem did so at the urging of the children, who convinced Mueller to rescue them from a slaughterhouse.

Of course, it is the suffering that animals endure in such places that incites Louise to teach the children about vegetarianism. She tries to inspire them to consider how meat-eating "affects not just ourselves but other living creatures." All leave with an increased appreciation of their fellow earthlings, and with the knowledge that "[w]e don't need to shed blood to be healthy and happy."

For more information on Salem, write to The Maryland Salem Children's Trust, 605 Salem Drive, Frostburg, MD 21532, call (301) 689-8176, or visit <>. E-mail:

Maryland Salem is almost always looking for individuals or couples who look positively on vegetarianism to become teaching parents, living with and caring for the Salem kids. Full time social workers are also sometimes needed.
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Article Details
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Author:Levitt, Lacey
Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Date:Jul 1, 2000

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