Heart for Havana: Carrollton merchant seeks supplies, monetary donations for Cuba mission trip

Published 5:11 pm Tuesday, July 11, 2023

By Akilah Frye

Staff writer

Cheryl Finley Ketcham, owner of Finley’s General Store in Carrollton, is collecting school supplies for children in Havana, Cuba, ahead of her third trip there this year.

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Before Ketcham’s first trip to Cuba, many questioned the idea of traveling to the communist country. 

“The thought about visiting Cuba first came up when I was in Smithfield Little Theatre’s ‘Savannah Sipping Society’ play last autumn,” Ketcham said. “I had a scene where we came back to my porch after salsa dancing to Cuban music. And that’s when the first idea of Cuba popped into my head. I didn’t know anything about Cuba, but something told me I needed to visit. I figured I’d find out why once I got there.”

Ketcham’s first trip to Cuba was a group tour in February, when she visited a performing arts school in the western part of the country. The students lived at the school, and the bathroom they used had no toilet paper, soap, towels or running water. 

“We listened to music performances and then watched dancers — most of whom had no shoes and sweated in the room with no air conditioning — perform the song my daughter walked down the aisle to at her wedding,” Ketcham recalled. “I started crying and was hit strongly with the need to help the people of Cuba. I learned in Cuba to separate people from politics, and the people are hurting terribly.”

This experience drove her to help the people of Cuba through mission work. Once Ketcham returned home, she began researching and came across Proclaim Cuba, a mission group based in her home state of Texas. After speaking with the director, Ketcham was invited to join a mission team in May.

During this trip with Proclaim Cuba, they were able to supply 140 pounds of food and personal supplies for families. Through this experience, Ketcham established a relationship with Yaima, the children’s ministry director who is in charge of Aprendo, a Saturday school program for first through third graders in some of the poorest areas of Havana. 

“It provides the children with breakfast and lunch, love, Bible school and a reinforcement of what they learned in public school during the week,” Ketcham said. “It is nearly impossible to find school supplies on empty store shelves in Cuba, so I will hand-carry supplies that are essential to the program. Without these donations, the school would have to do without.”

Ketcham will be taking donations to Havana in late August. 

“I am hoping people will be interested in donating school supplies and dropping them off at the store,” she said of Finley’s, located off Carrollton Boulevard.

Another way the community can make an impact on Ketcham’s return is through monetary donations that will be used in Cuba to buy food for the children and supply other needs. 

“If enough donations are received, Aprendo can purchase a large building for only $38,000 — about the price of a new car in the United States,” Ketcham said. “Currently, there is only room for first through third graders, but they would like to expand to sixth graders. Yaima said this past year’s third graders were crying when she told them they couldn’t attend Aprendo next year for fourth grade, due to space constraints.”

Tax-deductible donations can be made through a link on Finley’s General Store Facebook page. 

Supplies sought include:

  • Scissors for teachers
  • Scissors for students
  • Construction paper
  • Erasers
  • Stick & liquid glue
  • Pencils
  • Colored markers
  • Colored pencils
  • Stickers
  • Balloons
  • Notebooks
  • Candy that doesn’t melt (no AC)
  • Small toys for boys (like Matchbox cars)
  • Small toys for girls (like Littlest Pet Shop)
  • (“Like-new” used toys can be donated if your kids have outgrown them.)