Friday, November 20, 2009



Gary dive's for better view of turtle

I met Gary Hunt about 30 years ago. Since then, he has been indispensible to the many renovations at my home, Woodloft. He created the six outdoor ponds there including one fashioned from a green Roman bathtub recessed in the ground at the edge of the deck.

Green Roman tub converted to pond (Hard to believe I once bathed in this tub!)

He also helped me design and build the 7-circuit labyrinth next to that pond.

Flagstone labyrinth

Gary has led a fascinating, often unconventional life. He is a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in West Africa. He spent time living at an Israeli kibbutz. And he spent many years volunteering at Roanoke’s Ronald McDonald House. So it was no surprise when he came up with a novel idea for a one-of-a-kind business.

Children who were recipients of school supplies

He noticed that a lot of still-usable items were being thrown into landfills, and he wondered how some of them could be salvaged.. Among the many serviceable goods he saw going to waste were book bags that were replaced each school year even though they still had plenty of “life” left in them. So, Gary channeled his revulsion over the waste that occurs all over America into the creation of “Bookbag Santa,” a company that recycles school supplies so they can be used by the children of Belize. As the owner of Bookbag Santa, Gary functions much like a modern-day Robin Hood, but one who collects from the wasteful and gives to the poor rather than stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

Hotel where volunteer's stay

Gary also recruits volunteers to help him collect school supplies. As a fringe benefit, any volunteer who wants to can join him on the trip to Belize each year to deliver the supplies. Not only does this allow everyone to experience firsthand the joy of helping Belize’s children, but it also allows them to spend a week or two enjoying the splendors of that beautiful country. Even though everyone must pay their own airfare and other expenses, discounts are available; and there are occasional extras, like dinner at a school principal’s home.

Sign at airport

Last night, I decided to try a recipe Gary brought back from Belize. I had previously made my own bean and rice recipe for him, but this time, I wanted to duplicate the superb Belizean dish he said mine was “close to, but not quite.” Initially, I was hesitant to prepare the recipe the same way they do in Belize. I usually don’t add the rice to the beans for cooking, but cook it separately and then ladle the beans over it. That way, I make sure the rice is cooked just right. The Belizeans cook everything together including a cup of coconut milk, something I never would have thought to add.

Belizean Rice and Beans

Wanting to make the genuine dish, I overcame my reservations and prepared it exactly the way the Belizeans do. I accompanied the dish with plantains that I steamed and then sautéed with butter and a small amount of honey. I also served sweet potato yeast rolls prepared from a recipe given to me by my friend, Cheryl Harvey Hill.

When the dish was served and the moment of truth arrived, I was delighted to hear Gary say, “Ahhh, now that is exactly the way I remember it." Unfortunately, I did not do as good a job on the plantain. I will need to read up on how to prepare plaintains. Mine tasted like crunchy cardboard.

Here is the recipe Gary brought back from Belize.

Red Beans and Rice, Belizean Style


1 lb. red kidney beans garlic cloves
1 t. salt 1 cup coconut milk
1 t. pepper
1 t. thyme

1 onion, sliced

8 cups water

¼ lb. salt pork fat or beef
2 cups rice, dry Preparation:

l. Soak beans for 4 hours.
2. Place garlic, onion and pork fat into pot with the beans and boil until tender.
3. Season beans with pepper, thyme and salt.

4. Add coconut milk. Stir and bring to a boil.

5. Add rice to bea
7. Cook on low heat until the water is absorbed and rice is tender. (1 cup of rice absorbs about 2 cups of water).

I’m so glad I tried this recipe. It makes a far better bean and rice dish than the ones I’ve made previously. Delicious!

Gary now has nearly 30 volunteers working for Bookbag Santa and joining him for his annual trip to Belize. The organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. To celebrate, Bookbag Santa is donating a free trip to Belize for a graduating high school senior with good grades and a record of volunteer service to the community. To learn more about this and all of Bookbag Santa’s activities, please see the Bookbag Santa website.
President and founder: Gary Hunt

Anyone want to join me in Belize next year?

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. hi cheryl. congrats on your new blogsite and this fine story on berlize, it's food and gary's doings. will

  3. Hi Cheryl,

    Some computer glitch put Will's comment in my mimja name. It's great to see where all the school supplies got to. I remember the day Gary came over in Roanoke to gather materials.

  4. I wrote a column about Gary and his bookbags to Belize program about two years ago...I'm glad to see it's still successful. Belize looks beautiful!


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