The Business of Relief

In the weeks after Hurricane Mitch roared through Central America, people around the world pitched in. Tons of supplies—and many volunteers—poured in to Honduras, Nicaragua, and other areas devastated by the century’s worst storm.

Soon, however, the deluge of support slowed to a trickle, as the world turned its eyes to earthquakes in Turkey or floods in North Carolina. For poor Hondurans and Nicaraguans, the struggle to recover from the hurricane’s ravages goes on. "We were poor before Mitch, but we were okay," one Honduran man said. "Now we have nothing."

Not everyone has turned away. Ferdinand Mahfood—"Ferdy"—is one who remains committed to helping those victimized by Mitch, but not by sending leftovers. "The way to help the poor is not to go into our closets and send used clothes," he said while visiting Honduras this fall. "To help the poor, you have to go to the poor and find out what they need." And that’s exactly what he does.

In the early ‘80s, Mahfood—then a Miami-based import-export businessman running "Mahfood’s Commercial Ltd."—had a revelation while visiting a slum in Jamaica, his family’s home country. First, he said, he had a startling realization as he looked at the hundreds of poor men, women, and children—"These were the faces of Christ." Second, he felt he had the right set of skills to actually help them.

"My gifts as a businessman were perfect for the huge job that needed to be done," Mahfood explained in an article in Guideposts magazine. "Running a large import-export firm, I had acquired the management skills to ship merchandise throughout the Caribbean. I knew how to cut governmental red tape. And I knew how to bargain to get the best merchandise for the best price. Missionaries had built facilities [like the one in Jamaica] for the poor. What they needed were supplies. That I could provide."

He’s spent the last 17 years doing just that.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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