A sea of hairnet-clad heads filled the sanctuary at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Spokane Valley on Friday night.
Men, women and children from across the Inland Northwest gathered with one goal in mind: fill 22 pallets with 171,000 meals to feed starving children all over the globe.
Since 2015, Charles Brondos, a retired neurologist, has organized an annual meal-packing event for Feed My Starving Children, a hunger relief organization that has been providing food for starving children in dozens of countries for 25 years.
Brondos said prior to last weekend’s packing event more than 2,000 local volunteers have prepared more than half-million meal packs that have been distributed worldwide.
“It’s the most fun you can have wearing a hairnet,” he said, grinning.
Feed My Starving Children, a Christian nonprofit founded in 1987, provides culturally-neutral, nutritionally-complete meals tailored to the unique digestive needs of malnourished children. General Mills, Pillsbury and Cargill teamed up to develop the organization’s signature fortified rice meal – known as a MannaPack – in 1993.
The meals are assembled at fixed packing sites in Minneapolis, Chicago, Mesa, Arizona, and Dallas, as well as MobilePack sites, like Friday and Saturday’s event at Redeemer Lutheran.
Last year more than 364 million meals were prepared at fixed sites and MobilePacks. Distribution partners deliver the meals to 70 countries, including North Korea and India. Feed My Starving Children also assists with disaster relief. Brondos said the group recently sent 670,000 meals to the Bahamas in response to Hurricane Dorian.
Brondos heard about the organization from a friend whose granddaughter decided to skip a traditional birthday party and take her friends to a MobilePack event.
“She was packing meals for children she’ll never see,” he said.
He wanted to give his own grandchildren that opportunity and the Inland Northwest MobilePack was born.
“Our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters have helped every year,” said Brondos.
Assembling 171,000 meals takes a village of volunteers and on Friday night that village listened as organizers from Feed My Starving children explained the need and the process.
After hearing that 6,200 children die each day from hunger and malnutrition, the volunteers, a mix of first-timers and veterans, were ready to roll. The group was divided into three teams: warehouse (heavy lifting), labeling and packing, with the bulk of the number dedicated to packing.
Groups of 12 to 20 volunteers gathered around the packing stations in the gym to assemble MannaPack Rice. Each pack contains pre-measured amounts of rice, soy, vitamins/nutrients and dried vegetables. The meals cost less than 25 cents and just need to be mixed with water for consumption.
Cheryl Davis worked alongside her grandson Blake Davis, 12.
“I work at Umpqua Bank and heard about this event there,” she said.
Blake, a student at West Valley City School, poured a cup of rice into a package while his grandmother added a scoop of vegetables.
He said he was happy to help, and he’ll get credit for community service at school.
Nearby, the Jones family worked together. Marc Jones said this was the third year he, his wife, Becca, and their four children have helped at the event.
“There’s not many service projects you can do as a family,” said Becca.
Since September was Hunger Action month and hunger is a local issue, too, organizers set up collection barrels for the Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank
All told, some 700 volunteers worked five packing shifts Friday and Saturday.
The Inland Northwest MobilePack has grown each year, with more volunteers turning out to pack even more meals.
“We’re so blessed with all the food we have,” Brondos said. “When I see people helping strangers – it’s humbling.”
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