CELEBRATE COMMUNITY: Food festival helps fund medical trips to Belize

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KELLY HUMPHREY @KellyHnwfdn

CRESTVIEW — It’s a long way from the Hub City to Belize, but each year supporters of Operation Medical Care travel around the world to aid the volunteers who make the trip.

OK, maybe those supporters don’t actually travel around the world, but their taste buds do. One of the main fundraisers for the annual medical mission trip to the Central American country is Operation Medical Care International Food Festival, which has been serving up international cuisine for nine years.

That’s how long volunteers and medical professionals like Dr. Joseph Peter, a pediatrician who practiced in Crestview for many years, have been traveling to the rural interior of the country. While the coastline caters to tourists looking to enjoy the country’s beaches, most of the residents of the inland villages have very little resources.

“Every year, we see more and more people,” said Bernadine Peter, Dr. Peter’s wife and a registered dietician in her own right. “Word starts to spread from village to village that we are coming, and people just converge at the different locations that we visit.”

In addition to providing the only medical care that many of the villagers receive all year, volunteers with Operation Medical Care also offer help with dental and vision care.

“Many local drug stores, like Moulton Pharmacy in Crestview, donate medications like antibiotics, either for free or very low cost,” Bernadine Peter said. “We leave the medications and other medical supplies behind at the local clinics for them to use.”

Peter said the team sees thousands of patients each year. Their illnesses range from simple colds and minor infections to severe conditions. Last year, the group arranged to have a young man with a brain tumor travel to Northwest Florida for treatment.

“We had local doctors who performed surgery on him and saved his life,” Peter said. “We never know what kind of challenges we’re going to have waiting for us when we arrive.”

The group will be traveling to Belize this month, where they’ll bring more than their medical skills and supplies.

“We collect school supplies and deliver them to the children,” Peter said. “We also bring toys like soccer balls and jump ropes. We want them to have fun, and to get exercise as well. Fitness is so important, and these kids have so little.”

Along those lines, Peter uses her knowledge of nutrition to help the residents prepare healthy, affordable meals using local ingredients.

“It’s all about promoting a healthy lifestyle,” Peter added. “We want to treat their illnesses, but more importantly, help them avoid getting sick in the first place.”

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