HAGERSTOWN, Md. - When Dan Franklin went to veterinary school in the Philippines, it opened his eyes to the poverty in that country and many other parts of the world.
"People in this country have no idea how the majority of the world live. They live hand-to-mouth," Franklin said.
A mission trip to the Dominican Republic eight years ago through his church, Church of Christ in Hagerstown, was the first of many for Franklin. He found most of the trips required construction skills, which were not his specialty.
"Building is not my bag. Critters are my bag," said Franklin, 56.
Franklin grew up in New Jersey and has lived in Hagerstown for 34 years. He owns Mid-Atlantic Veterinary Hospital in Hagerstown.
After about four years searching for the mission that was the right fit for him, Franklin hatched the idea for an independent family business called "The Family Flock," which was incorporated in July 2012. The effort raises money for supplies to build mobile chicken coops and provide impoverished families with egg-laying chickens.
"Eggs are second in nutrition to breast milk" in providing quality protein and nutrients, Franklin said. "The plan is sustainable nutrition."
A typical diet in the Dominican Republic consists mainly of rice, beans and vegetables, he said.
"There's poverty everywhere, in every corner, except at the resorts. There are a lot of very poor people, hungry people," Franklin said.
Franklin found a design for a chicken coop on wheels, built one himself and raised egg-laying chickens from chicks so he would be able to advise the recipient families in the Dominican Republic.
"I needed firsthand experience," he said.
One of the coops can hold 10 chickens, which under ideal conditions will produce a total of 2,000 eggs in a year. Franklin said it takes six months for the chicks to mature enough to lay eggs and then they'll lay eggs for three to four years.
Franklin's daughter, Katie Hill, did the planning for the trip, maintains the website for The Family Flock Corp. and is in the process of submitting paperwork for nonprofit status.
Franklin and Jeff Stone traveled to the Dominican Republic in September with this new focus. They took 450 pounds of tools and materials, which remain there for future projects.
The coop design includes materials that are readily available in the Dominican Republic. Since they don't cut wood there, the timber needs to be shipped in, Franklin said.
Three families received coops that were constructed during Franklin's September visit to the village of Altamira in Puerto Plata and got their chickens on Oct. 17. A U.S. missionary family that represents "ThreeSixteen Missions" helped Franklin choose families that would be good candidates to raise chickens for a one-year trial period.
If the chickens produce as expected, the families will have enough eggs for themselves and extra to use as a financial resource should they want to sell them, Franklin said. That would help them pay for the chicken feed once they are given complete ownership if the project succeeds.
If not, the coops will be given to another family, one reason they are on wheels.
The egg money can also be used by families to purchase uniforms so their children can go to school.
"So from not being able to afford a single egg to having excess. ... We're trying to build a community of success," Franklin said.
One of Franklin's worries is that families might not be patient enough to wait the six months for eggs and might eat the chickens.
Each coop setup costs about $500 for a year, Franklin said. He said the first coops took about 20 hours to build, but hopes the process will get faster the more they build.
Franklin and his wife, Cora Franklin, are covering the administrative costs and nobody is paid, so 100 percent of donations go to materials, chickens and feed, he said.
Donations have come in from church members, the families of vet patients and others who know about the project, Franklin said.
Franklin hopes to recruit several men to travel to the Dominican Republic in early 2013 and assist in building coops. His goal is to build 10 coops that trip.
"There's a lot of people that care about hungry kids. This really gives people the opportunity to share with the world," he added.
Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., http://www.herald-mail.com
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