by Joey Crandall, firstname.lastname@example.org Photos courtesy of Hallelujah Toffee · 6 min read
Her name is Purity.
Her father died and her mother was sick.
The oldest of six children, she was was attempting to make ends meet by selling bananas on the side of the road.
In Kenya, due to the limited availability secondary schools, many students have difficulty gaining access to the secondary education system.
For many students, particularly in rural areas, that means paying for their secondary schooling at a private institution.
But, in a country that ranks among the lowest in the world in terms of human development, such funding is rarely readily available.
“Her test scores were amazing,” said Minden resident Karen Berger, a 1996 graduate of Douglas High School. “Her teachers were collecting their own money to try to pay for school for Purity.
“But it wasn’t enough.”
That was four years ago. She’s now attending university.
The gap between then and now, well, that’s where the story is.
“From selling bananas to attending university,” Berger said. “That is just a picture of God’s grace for every single one of us. If education is a way He wants to show His love to these kids, then I want to be a part of that.”
Back in 2000, Berger was teaching math at Galena High School while her husband, Craig, was attending medical school at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“We cooked candy by night” Berger said. “He helped, my mom helped, his mom helped, the grandparents got involved. We made toffee from Craig’s grandmother’s recipe, solid it and used the money to pay for medical school.”
They called it Hallelujah Toffee.
“Once that part of our life was taken care of, though, we started to look for other venues, just things we could support with those same efforts.”
During their search, they met a Kenyan missionary, Andrew Onguka.
“He just had a heart for these kids in Kenya,” Berger said. “It was an opportunity where we felt we could come alongside his efforts and give sponsorships so that these children can go to high school.
“For a kid in Kenya, high school is the equivalent of college for a kid here. The government will pay for university, and for primary school, but there is a four-year gap there where they lose a lot of children out of the system.
“As we learned more about that need, it just became such a natural fit for what Hallelujah Toffee had done for us and what we wanted it to continue to do for others.”
Through a partnership with Minden-based Bridge Ministries (which works directly with Onguka), Hallelujah Toffee began supporting tuition scholarships, room and board, mentoring, emergency medical care and summer camp for successful applicants to the program.
“A lot of these kids don’t have homes,” Berger said. “We pay for them to be able to go to a safe place for the summer so we know they have food and are not out on the streets.”
Cost for tuition ranges between $400 and $1,200 for the year.
“There are so many well-deserving kids, just great kids, and all they needed was a scholarship,” Berger said.
They call them the “Candy Kids,” of whom there are currently 34 out of the 119 supported by Bridge Ministries. They range in progression from their freshman to senior years of secondary school
“They are a family,” Berger said. “They get together for Christmas, they do life together. It’s not just classroom learning. You have to understand, they’re being taught how to turn on lights because some of these kids have never seen electricity. They’ve never ordered off of a menu from a restaurant.
“This is an enormously life-changing thing that is happening for them.”
The toffee-making process, which has seen drastic growth since its humble home kitchen genesis, begins every August as Berger starts collecting the supplies — starting with 800 pounds of fair trade chocolate (“We want chocolate that isn’t made by children who should otherwise be in school,” Berger said), 1,000 pounds of butter and 1,000 pounds of sugar.
Then the fun starts.
“It’s turned into quite an operation,” said Berger. “There are no salaries, so all of the proceeds can go to the kids in Kenya. There are three or four of us who work 40-60-hour work weeks from November to December and hundreds of wonderful volunteers who pitch in along the way.”
St. Gall Catholic Church has offered up its commercial kitchen annually to support to the effort.
“We have 20 cooks now,” Berger said. “It takes us about a month to cook about 3,000 pounds. This year we did 3,100.
“Then we box it all up on one day in November. We had 100 volunteers for that day alone this year. Kids, families all get together. Everyone has a job. The children build the boxes, the adults tie the twine.
“It gets set up like a packing plant, and Marty Nord, who heads it up, has it running like a well-oiled machine now.”
They finish that day with 5,000 or more boxes of toffee ready for sale or shipping.
And then, in a matter of weeks, it all sells out.
“God is good,” Berger said. “We don’t really market it, we don’t have to at this point. I think what happens is that the people in Carson Valley have spread the word so far over the years. They buy it and ship it to their family and friends, and then their family and friends order the next year. We ship boxes all over.”
Joyce’s Fine Jewelry & Gifts is the only physical location to buy the toffee in December. The rest of the orders come online and at various Valley events.
“Our story is in every box and I think people read it and it really resonates with them,” Berger said. “Even in our volunteers, we have so many retired teachers who help, because they can see the importance of where this is going.”
The effort has grown so big that there has been outside encouragement to mechanize the process.
“We’re kind of at that point where we can’t get any bigger without machines,” Berger said. “And at this point, that’s not really what we want to do.
“That’s what makes it different, is just that hand-made, homemade element. We stir every batch by hand. Five hundred and six pots this year by hand.
“It’s a modern-day quilting bee. I love the feel of that. I love the feel of our community doing this. It’s different churches, different faiths, different walks of life loving one another, loving our neighbors and finding a group of people most have never or will never meet to go show some love to.
“The kids involvement here is my favorite part. I think we all have children who have big hearts. Kids, more than anyone, want to contribute. When we tell our kids, ‘Hey, there are children starving in Africa, so you need to eat your dinner,’ what does that mean to them.
“But in something like this, they can actively contribute to someone who is in need. They can fold boxes or paper. It’s from the children up to the 85-year-old woman tying twine. Anyone is invited to be a part of the effort, and that gives it a very fun quality.
“There is nothing but enthusiasm for it. I wouldn’t say it is easy, but it is rewarding. And this community, we are just so thankful for the people in this community for being a part of making it happen, and for continuing to help spread our story.”