Margaret Leersnyder answered the phone on Wednesday with a mouth full of biscuit. The same thing won't happen today if anyone rings, as the 75-year-old Marton woman will be going without food for 40 hours, eating only honey lollies and drinking fruit juice.

Mrs Leersnyder has been joining in the World Vision 40 Hour Famine fundraising challenge for 30 years now, and has raised at least an estimated $17,000 for children in poverty.

"I was just lucky enough that for two or three years in a row, one dear old man used to sponsor me a thousand dollars," she said.

"He felt that if I had faith in World Vision that I would give up food ... that he would sponsor me that. He was a retired farmer."


She started in her mid 40s when her son and a group of his friends did the challenge at their home, and she joined in.

"I just felt it was a good cause, and World Vision are one of the organisations I know that keep their running costs to the minimum up at the Auckland office ... a very high percentage of it goes straight into the field where it's needed.

"That's always impressed me."

Mrs Leersnyder is part of the St Andrews Famine Fighters - a group of five people from her church who are all taking part in the 40 Hour Famine.

"In our church with five of us doing it, we just say 'we need sponsors, please' and the parishioners sort of head to the person they're going to sponsor."

Mrs Leersnyder has about nine sponsors this year, including a couple of regulars who sponsor her for $20 each year.

"Sometimes we show a video in our little local theatre and make it a gala occasion with afternoon tea, and charge them $15 to come along and see the movie."

In earlier years, Mrs Leersnyder would travel to schools around the Rangitikei area and motivate children to join in the 40 Hour Famine.

She does not do that any more, but encouraged schools to find out details online.

After 30 years, she doesn't care any more about planning a big meal for when the famine challenge ends.

"The first year we did it, my son and his friends decided they wanted to make the pizza of pizzas."

When the masterpiece came out of the oven at lunchtime, they discovered they couldn't eat much of it. "By then their stomachs had sort of switched off and they could only manage a piece each."

They'd wanted roast pork for dinner, but couldn't eat that either.

Mrs Leersnyder didn't find it too hard coping with the hunger, although it could be hard when others were eating.

"My husband invited a friend down for tea.

"They were going to have fish and chips.

"I thought that was really mean."

Her husband and his friend each felt so guilty as they ate their takeaways and sipped their wine that they each sponsored Mrs Leersnyder $20.

Aside from joining in the famine, she has also sponsored children over the years, though now she is on a pension she jointly sponsors a child with others.

"This little girl is turning 13 this month and she lives in Rwanda," she said.

- Anyone wanting to sponsor Mrs Leersnyder can head to and search her name to donate. The 40 Hour Famine is running from June 10-12.