CAPE GIRARDEAU — First, a spoonful of chicken flavoring. Then a cup of dried vegetables, some soy for protein and white rice. Once blended and cooked, the ingredients in the clear 20-ounce bag provide a well-balanced meal that can feed six malnourished children anywhere in the world.
At West Park Mall on a recent Saturday, 1,098 volunteers, many from La Croix United Methodist Church, bagged about 258,000 meals for Feed My Starving Children — well on their way to a goal of 400,000. The remaining volunteers packed more meals at a later time.
Still, Linda Watts, co-organizer of the Feed My Starving Children MobilePack, said congregation members already knew they'd be packing more than the intended goal. While in contact with Feed My Starving Children supervisors, Watts and Linda Tenkhoff, another event organizer from La Croix, agreed they'd have the manpower — more than 2,100 volunteers — to pack an additional 64,000 meals, so they opened slots in each of their six shifts. In their first two-hour shift, volunteers had already packaged 80,000 meals.
"We really feel like we underestimated what really can happen," Watts said.
Watts said the meals volunteers sealed tight during the two-day event will feed 1,200 children for a year. One meal provides enough nutrition for a whole day.
"It's overwhelming to me that you can ask people to help and they say 'Where?' and 'How much?'" Tenkhoff said. "We all underestimated the power of God."
Among the volunteers at the mall was 21-year-old Britt Bajier, a member of La Croix Church, who during a mission trip to Swaziland in Africa in 2009 witnessed the need for organizations like Feed My Starving Children, a not-for-profit with permanent packaging sites in Minnesota and Illinois. Bajier said it broke her heart to see so many children go home without food in their stomachs.
"I know names and faces now," Bajier said, remembering the children she met in Africa. "I've got three ways to describe my trip: incredible, heartbreaking and incredibly heartbreaking."
The mobile packing event in Cape Girardeau was one of 150 held so far this year through Feed My Starving Children. According to Joel Howells, an event supervisor with the group, volunteers at all locations are estimated to have boxed 127 million meals, enough to feed 350,000 malnourished children for a year.
The faces of underfed children are also not new to Jana Jateff, a member of La Croix Church for more than 20 years. Although volunteering at the Feed My Starving Children event was a first for Jateff and her husband, she said she's traveled to Rio Bravo, Mexico, 17 times. A lot of families there are without housing, running water, toilets or food.
"They have such a need in every sense of the word," Jateff said. "It's amazing how much we have that we take for granted."
John Wade, another longtime member of La Croix Church, has volunteered at each of the Feed My Starving Children MobilePack event organized by Watts and Tenkhoff. The pair worked together to gather volunteers and bring in Feed My Starving Children staff to bag meals in 2008 and 2009.
This year, as a reminder of the malnourished population in the world, a clock was hung in the church's sanctuary to track the children who die of starvation-related illnesses every three seconds. The clock reads more than 400,000 after ticking for nearly two weeks.
"It's unbelievable awareness to see that clock," Wade said. "For me, this really gets me in the spirit of giving."
For mother Brandy Quade, also the church's children's ministry director, it was important the volunteering opportunity be something the congregation's families could do together. She brought her children, including her 9-year-old son, Parker, who was packing meals at the same station as his mother.
Volunteering with her son meant an opportunity for him to learn, she said, that hunger and starvation occurs too often and stretches beyond the country's borders.
"It's hard for them to understand unless they can see it," Quade said. "Even at his age he can make a difference."