Volunteers pack meals for children in Haiti

Friday, December 16, 2011 | 11:32 a.m. CST

CAPE GIRARDEAU — About 2,600 volunteers flocked to the Shawnee Park Center on West End Boulevard recently to prepare meal packets to feed starving children in Haiti. Their efforts will ensure that more than 1,644 children will get one balanced, nutritious meal a day for the next year.

La Croix United Methodist Church organized the MobilePack event for the organization Feed My Starving Children. Last year, 2,000 volunteers packed 500,000 meals that fed more than 1,300 children. This year there were 2,600 volunteers with a goal of 600,000 packed meals, the organizer said. The final total of meals packed exceeded 632,000.

Each meal costs 24 cents, and the total cost for this year's meals was $144,000. The entire cost for the food, packaging and shipping will be raised on Christmas Eve. The entire church offering that evening is earmarked for the feeding program.

Of the 2,600 volunteers who signed on, almost all of them showed up. Numerous church groups, Scouting groups and teams from around the area helped.

"Somehow, all these teams from the area managed to sign up for the same shift," said Linda Watts, event director. "They started competing with each other to see who could pack the most meal packets. That shift really packed fast."

When the volunteers arrived, they were given instructions and hair nets. Then they were taken to the work stations, called cells, where they scooped, measured, weighed and sealed the food packets.

"Over 100 middle school children showed up with 60 adults. They came on buses and took it very seriously," Watts said. They were hungry when their shifts ended, so they went to Dairy Queen wearing their hair nets.

Packing is a family affair for Jennifer Byrum of Jackson and her two sons, Trenton and Landon.

"My favorite part was weighing and bagging," said Landon, 12. This was his third year working the event, and he is planning on returning next year.

This was 9-year-old Trenton's first year attending the event. "It was fun. I mostly scooped vegetables, but I was weighing (food packets) at the end," he said. "I like helping others that are in need."

Their mother said she thinks helping others in need is a worthwhile experience for her boys.

"We don't realize how other people have to live," Byrum said. "We take for granted what we have in the States. We are so spoiled."

The bagged food was boxed and then placed on pallets. Each pallet contained enough packets to provide 7,776 meals. Since Feed My Starving Children is a Christian organization, each pallet is prayed over before it is shipped from the MobilePack location.

Debra Harris was a first-year volunteer. She came because her church, True Vine Ministries, promotes reaching out and helping.

"There has been too much tragedy. Time for something positive to begin," she said.

Convoy of Hope, a faith-based trucking company based in Springfield, picks up the completed pallets and takes them to a warehouse, said Ursula Maley, a supervisor who has been with Feed My Starving Children in Aurora, Ill., for four years.

"There the pallets will be placed in containers, which are taken by rail to a seaport, probably in Louisiana or in Miami," Maley said. "At the port, they will be loaded onto a ship bound for Haiti."

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