Chris Caillier planned to build his life around groceries and good service. The thought of doing it in Kenya did not cross his mind.
He grew up in the South End. Straight out of Wilson High School, he went into the grocery business, started to raise a family and continued his love affair with Tacoma.
During the real estate boom, he strayed into mortgage lending, but it didn’t take. He wanted back into groceries.
“I made a ton of money, and realized that it didn’t bring happiness,” he said. “I found out about Grocery Outlet and noticed they were building one in South Tacoma. I wanted to work toward ownership.”
Now 40, Caillier is a manager and does the videos on the store’s Facebook page – the guy who tells you that Seahawks gear is in now, and you’d better stock up for a season of Terrell Owens.
There’s another big thing about Caillier.
“I am a total Jesus freak,” he said. “One of my main mentors in life is Dean Curry.”
Last year, Curry, pastor of Life Center, invited Caillier to a global leadership summit.
“I went, and I got a crystal clear calling that I had to go to Kenya and Somalia,” he said. “Before, there was never a moment in my life where I said, ‘I just want to go out into the world and feed the children of Africa.’”
He researched the conflict in Somalia that has pushed people to refugee camps in Kenya. He looked into established nonprofits but did not see how he would fit into them.
He decided to become a one-man aid program, sustained by YouTube, Facebook and every other social medium he could wrangle. He talked it up with friends, spoke at church and built a website.
In April, he and his daughter, Savannah, who was 14, flew to Kenya. They would identify needs, tell the story and make it possible for their friends to send money to fix those needs.
South Tacoma helped in a big way.
Pauline Mbugua, who owns a home in Kenya, shops at Grocery Outlet and invited the Cailliers to stay with her son there.
Bobby and Florence Mbugua picked up the Cailliers at the Nairobi airport and gave them a quick course in Kenyan life.
“We learned what was safe, what wasn’t, how to get around, and that there was a culture of corruption,” Caillier said. “You take what you can get when you can get it, because there might not be any left over.”
They met Tacoma missionaries Dave and Katie Richardson, who invited them to stay in Thika town to see how to deliver small-scale direct aid. The Richardsons care for orphans, pay people to work in their center and finance small businesses.At Amri School, Caillier filmed the need and shared it using social media.
A couple out of St. Louis said, We want to fulfill that need. They gave $200, Caillier said. With it we were able to buy 25 pairs of shoes for orphans, food, flour, beans and rice for the entire orphanage for a week, eye medicine for a kid, cod liver oil for some of the HIV kids, and a desk for the headmaster.
Caillier got to talking with beggar boys who sniffed glue. One, Karuki, said he would like to go to school and quit glue. Caillier paid school fees, bought the uniform and found a soccer coach to mentor the boy.
I had to bribe Karukis grandmother $3 a week for all of his food so she would keep him.
In the refugee camp, Caillier found a family who shared a disability that puts them in wheelchairs. In Somalia, they had a good business dyeing dresses. Caillier raised the money to sustain them in the camp, but hopes donors will relocate them so they can re-establish their trade.
During his 74-day mission, Grocery Outlet was keeping up with the story, said employee Evan Perez.
"We had a television set up in the store showing exactly what he was doing in Kenya. People were always coming in and asking about him, to see the work that he was doing, Perez said.
Well all have another chance.
Caillier is going back to Kenya in February.
He wants to build a clinic where kids can get basic medicine to fight the colds and infections that kill many of them. He wants to enlarge a nursery that serves 60 babies and toddlers a day. He wants to match donors with families who could become independent if they had a small stake with which to build a business.
Stay tuned, on all your communication devices.
TO LEARN MORE
To find out more about Chris Caillier’s Kenya crusade, go online to meganshouse.org.