RUTLAND, Mass. — Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
No task is too small for Laura Booth when it comes to helping the poor.
She is in the pasture and pens feeding cows, goats and sheep, trimming their hoofs, giving them vaccinations and nursing the sick ones. She is in the barn raking hay and shoveling manure. She is at churches, showing off the animals to raise money to buy more. She is in the woods tapping the maples for syrup.
Booth, a 25-year-old transplant from the industrial valleys of western Pennsylvania, with college training to work with people, now labors 12 hours a day with farm animals in Massachusetts.
She is one of 1,200 volunteers who work for Heifer Project International, a nonprofit, ecumenical organization that provides cows and other livestock so the poor from Maine to Managua can feed themselves.
Heifer's charity extends to teaching recipients to breed their gift animals so they can make a living.
But with only 155 full-time staffers in the United States and abroad, the project's lifeblood is volunteers like Booth, who do everything from soliciting precious dollars to cleaning the barns.
$100 Monthly Stipend
For a monthly stipend of $100, Booth works from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Heifer's Northeast Resource and Livestock Center here, one of nine regional centers across the United States. She lives in a trailer on the farm and is in bed generally by 9 p.m., happily weary from the long day's work.
"I didn't just want to jump into something that was a staid job for the rest of my life," she said. "I wanted to make a difference in people's lives. Helping people out is something that I believe very strongly in. I feel like I've dedicated my life to that."
To do it, she turned down two $17,000-a-year offers of jobs in her speciality, recreation for the elderly. She earned a degree in therapeutic recreation, with a minor in psychology.
Booth, whose long blonde hair, blue jeans and baggy sweaters make her look barely out of her teens, joined Heifer last September after two years working in Memphis with a Presbyterian youth program. She signed up for a year with Heifer and says she may stay on longer.
"I didn't grow up with a farm background," said Booth, the daughter of an orthodontist in Sharon, Pa., a steel town on that state's border with Ohio.
'Everything Was New'
"Everything was new," she said. "But the thing that feels so good is that you get to work outside all day long. When you go to sleep you feel great: You've exercised your body, you've breathed in clean air and you've helped other people."
Working with government agencies and churches to find its recipients, the Heifer Project gives away goats, rabbits, swine, bees, chickens and fish, as well as cows. It chooses poor farmers who belong to cooperatives, livestock associations or extension services rather than individual families.
Anne Bossi, a Heifer Project livestock consultant in Maine, said many people who had received cows told her it was the first time they were able to give their kids all the milk they wanted.
It has done far more for Troy Kilby, a 25-year-old divorced mother of three from Bradford, Me.
Kilby was unemployed and in debt, living on government aid, and her children, aged 3 to 8, were hungry much of the time.
Heifer gave her a milk cow, which she kept at an old farmhouse she was renting, and materials to fix the barn. With the cow, her children had more fresh, whole milk than they could drink. She sold the extra milk and butter, and the added income eased other expenses and helped her make a $500 downpayment on 12 acres of land.
Next, Heifer gave her a second cow and four rabbits, which she bred into 30 and is selling for profit. She is also selling jug milk and butter to neighbors and is raising veal calves. Her aim is to support herself.
"It helped a lot," she said. "It was a start in the right direction. After I got the cow, I got rid of some bills. I had lived in a house without electricity and running water. Now I've got electricity. We're working on running water. I don't think I could be where I am without everything they've given me."
The Heifer Project, with headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., was started in 1944 by Dan West, an Indiana farmer who as a volunteer relief worker in the Spanish Civil War had fed hungry children with powdered milk. West believed that it made more sense to give the needy real cows so they could feed themselves without having to take handouts.
Since that first year, when West and his church sent 18 cows abroad, Heifer has given nearly 75,000 animals and more than 1.5 million chickens and other birds to the needy in more than 30 states and 100 countries.
Heifer plans projects this year in 14 states and 36 countries, from Maine to Florida and from North Carolina to Arizona, from El Salvador to China.
Budget Primarily Donations