Lynda Burgman worked as an executive for the YMCA of Greater St. Louis for almost 30 years, retiring in 2005 and moving with her husband to Gray Summit in northern Franklin County. She’d visited some international sites, including a sister YMCA program in Bogota, Colombia, working with children in extreme poverty.
But nothing called her to action quite like a trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in September 2006.
In speaking engagements, she said, “one of the things I talk about is ‘What are you really doing with your life?’ I thought I was pretty involved working for a nonprofit organization, going to church, writing checks and driving for Meals on Wheels. But when I went down there, I simply went to hike the Machu Picchu. Along the way when I saw those children working in the salt pools, God called to me. I had like an epiphany. It was my St. Paul moment, my ‘Road to Damascus’ moment where I knew at that time I had to help those children.”
That’s what she’s done for the last 13 years.
Many of the children of the villages of Maras spend most days working in the salt pools. She described them as being bent over, caked in salt, skimming the surface with their hands to catch the grains into a pouch in hope of selling the salt for mere pennies. The lack of resources, the conditions in the villages and at the schools prompted Burgman to begin her humanitarian work.
It’s “a total God thing,” Burgman said. “God is using me. There is absolutely no doubt about it.”
For example, she said, 30 days after she was standing at the salt pools she was standing on the Oprah Winfrey Show touting what became her newly formed charity, Kindness in a Box. As soon as she returned home, Burgman began asking people she knew to fill a box with new or gently used clothing, toys and school supplies to be shipped to Peru for Christmas. Her daughter emailed the show regarding the drive, and a producer invited Burgman to appear on the “Oprah Winfrey Pay It Forward Show” which recognized charitable works.
“That’s all part of God’s planning,” Burgman said. “What’s happened these 13 years is He’s put people in my path to make these things happen. And I’m just a vessel, a conduit. If you look back on your life, you can see it’s like dominos. He’s preparing you for the exact moment to challenge you to take on this calling.”
Burgman was on Oprah twice, the first time in October of 2006. By Christmas, she was in Peru after two tons of toys, clothing and school supplies were shipped to Peru. Help came from FedEx, Mattel Toys, Arrow Cargo Airlines, Crown Packaging, Bank of Washington, Forest Labs, Hostway Corporation and Swissport-Peru. Soon though, her Box of Kindness charity evolved away from sending packages because of the need for food, water, housing and other basics.
Burgman, who wrote of her spiritual and charitable journey in a self-published book, “The Sand Dollar Cross,” spoke at an event at a St. Louis County Library. Someone left one of her newsletters on a chair. It was picked up later by the head of Church Women United, which led to Burgman receiving their 2015 United Nations Human Rights Award.
She’s now helping four villages, working with officials, community leaders and resources on hand with a school lunch program, school supply distribution, a medical clinic and greenhouses.
The medical clinic was built before she had anyone to provide services. At the time, Burgman was assisting a small nonprofit in St. Louis with a board member, the head of the Barnes-Jewish College Goldfarb School of Nursing, who was looking for a place in Peru to send her students. “God put her in my path just when I needed medical people to come and help,” Burgman said.
“I’m the facilitator and get some grant money,” Burgman said. “It’s a real small operation, but it’s real effective. There’s no overhead. I don’t get a salary. I pay my way down there. You give me a dollar, and a dollar goes down there.”
The 76-year-old enjoys the outdoors, especially hiking, and she often draws crosses in the dirt along trails. She has backpacked the Grand Canyon twice for example, and climbed Mt. Whitney (14,495 feet) at age 62. Her husband, Dale, taught at De Smet Jesuit High School for 27 years, including 16 years as varsity basketball coach.
Burgman came to the Catholic Church in her 20s, having attended a Baptist church with her mom when she was young. After college, she taught at a Catholic school. That and her mother’s illness drew her to the Church.
She’s intrigued by seeing crosses in ordinary places at critical times in her life. “The things that God shows me … He puts crosses in windows, on the ground. My faith has grown tremendously. I love Mass, and I feel like I’m being used through this work. I tell my priest buddies at Most Sacred Heart Church in Eureka that the best sermons are lived, not preached. You’re out doing and living what you hear on Sunday.”
>> Kindness in a Box
The mission of Kindness in a Box
is to provide humanitarian resources for the education, health and
well-being of impoverished, indigenous Quechua children and families in
the area of Maras, Peru. It sponsors a lunch program, greenhouses, two
community centers and a medical clinic.
The nonprofit organization
is based in St. Louis with a program director on site who is a native
of Peru. Funds are used, for example, for seeds and plants in
greenhouses, lunches for schoolchildren, school supplies, a chicken
program to produce eggs for families, medical supplies and equipment and
more. Donations to support these efforts can be sent to Kindness in a
Box, 5955 Grayling View Court, Villa Ridge, MO 63089 or on PayPal
(Kindness in a Box account).
For information, vist www.kindnessinabox.org.