Meal packing events bring out volunteers

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Saturday was a busy, but fun day. Part of the morning was taken up with visiting Theresa Baptist Church where volunteers from 17 area churches gathered to pack meals for Rise Against Hunger, the Raleigh-based charity that provides dehydrated meals that can be served to feed several people from one package.

If you’ve never attended one of these event, you really should try to volunteer the next time. The pace is fast, the work light and the pleasure hearing the gong go off every few minutes rewarding.

Rise Against Hunger started as Stop Hunger Now. The organization changed its name a few years ago to avoid a trademark battle with another organization, but the mission remains unchanged. The group hopes to end hunger around the world by 2030. That’s a high-minded mission, when you consider the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated in 2018 there are about 815 million chronically undernourished people in the world – that’s nearly 11 percent.

Still, no problem was ever solved without taking small bites out of the problem one at a time.

On Saturday, I walked into the fellowship hall at Theresa Baptist and saw a giant room filled with tables and people. Each person was standing around a work station where each person filled a plastic bag with a different ingredient. At other tables, people were seated. They were weighing each bag to make sure it had enough ingredients to make the promised number of meals and they were sealing each bag.

Still others – mostly young children – were running the filled bags from the filling stations to the weighing stations.

Other people were boxing the sealed packs up and taking them to a waiting truck where still more people were waiting to load the boxes, one at a time, into the truck.

Every so often a gong in the front of the room rang out, marking another 1,000 meals that had been packaged. The gong rang 60 times on Saturday. Do the math. That’s 60,000 meals packaged by those volunteers in just a few hours.

Its remarkable to me that people from 16 different churches could all be wrangled together for a single project on a single morning. But there they were. Denominational differences went out the window because the common goal of Rise Against Hunger – and those volunteers – was to help alleviate a problem. Hungry people probably don’t care if a Catholic or an Episcopalian filled that bag with food that will relieve their hung for the moment.

The first time I ever saw one of these projects was about 12 years ago. Rotary Clubs throughout north central North Carolina were challenged to package a million meals in a year’s time. My club at the time, organized a meal-packing event at our local high school. We were worried about whether we would have enough volunteers turn out to help us pack the meals. I was envisioning a day with our 10- or 12-member Rotary Club having to package the 40,000 meals we had promised to contribute.

But to our great happiness, volunteers came out of the woodwork that morning. There were so many that we had them work in shifts and Rotarians made sure not to do any of the work so the volunteers would have a chance to participate.

It was the first time in my life, I had seen people who really – I mean, really, wanted to help out at a community service event.

That same spirit was on hand Saturday at Theresa Baptist and it was rewarding to see so many people turning out to help people they don’t even know.

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