By Woody Woodrick
Mississippi’s response to a program that fights worldwide hunger has been so strong that a warehouse for the program will open soon in the state.
Stop Hunger Now plans to open a warehouse in the Jackson area within the next month or so, which will enable more groups to take part in the Operation Sharehouse program. That program enables volunteers to package high-protein, dehydrated meals for use in crisis situations and which provide a nutritious meal to support lunch feeding programs in schools and orphanages around the world. To date, more than 20,000 volunteers have being engaged in packaging meals and so far more than $44 million worth of aid has been distributed to more than 65 countries.
“We’ve done packaging events twice in Mississippi, and on both occasions we packaged 100,000-plus meals,” said Mike Ward of Jackson, who serves as hunger coordinator for the Mississippi Conference. “In 2007 we were in four communities over two days, including the University of Southern Mississippi, Galloway Memorial UMC in Jackson and in the Meridian and Starkville districts.
“Last year at Annual Conference, we had a packaging even scheduled and it went so well that we packaged all the meals in about nine or 10 hours of work time.”
The desire to locate a warehouse in Mississippi grew out of that response.
“Both times people repeatedly asked if we could do events in their community or with their organization,” said Ward, the spouse of Bishop Hope Morgan Ward. “It’s hard to respond to that heart-warming interest when the warehouse from which packaging is staged is in North Carolina. With a warehouse in Mississippi, we could stage smaller and more frequent events in multiple locations.”
A steering committee has been formed to get the program going and select a site for the warehouse. Ward said Jackson’s central location makes it ideal for the warehouse, but pointed out packaging events could be held anywhere in the state. “The actual events take place out of the truck,” he said.
All supplies needed for a packaging event are loaded onto trucks and taken to the event site.
What makes Operation Sharehouse so popular? Ward cited several factors.
“The interest of our folks is born out of a really strong sense of mission on the part of Mississippi Methodists and other folks. Mississippi is a very giving state. Mississippians, as a percentage of income, are among most generous people anywhere,” he said.
In addition, he said people have a strong spirit for mission work yet sometimes don’t see how what they do fills needs around the world.
“It’s not always possible for people to connect what they’d like to do missionally with need that exists far away. People get that kids are hungry and that people die of malnutrition around the world, but they don’t always see a way to roll up their sleeves and do something about it,” he said.
Operation Sharehouse gives them that opportunity. Volunteers are grouped around tables and given supplies of rice, soy protein and other ingredients, which are then poured into a funnel that leads to a plastic bag. Another group of volunteers seal the bags and place them in boxes. The food is stored until it can be shipped where needed.
Another attractive aspect of Project Sharehouse is that folks of all ages can participate. Volunteers have ranged from pre-school children to senior adults. “This is an incredibly tangible way to make a difference,” said Ward, former chair of the board of trustees for Stop Hunger Now. ”It’s fun, and it brings all kinds of people together. This is a project that all types of people can engage in. It’s a tangible mission.”
In addition to the warehouse, Stop Hunger Now will hire a full-time program coordinator.
“We want the packaging event at Annual Conference to be the inaugural event for the Mississippi warehouse,” he said.
Established in 1998, Stop Hunger Now coordinates food and medical aid projects across the globe. Its mission is to provide food and life-saving aid to the most poor and hungry throughout the world in the most, efficient, effective and sustainable manner.
The Operation Sharehouse model is well-established in Raleigh, N.C.; Goldsboro, N.C., and South Hill, Va. New facilities have recently being opened in Charlotte, N.C., and Lynchburg, Va., in 2008. Growth has occurred at a rapid pace. Stop Hunger Now’s goal for Operation Sharehouse for its first year, 2006, was 1 million meals; 1.7 million were packaged. In 2007 the goal was 2.1 million meals and 3.5 million meals were packaged. SHN packaged in excess of 5.5 million meals in 2008.
Once start-up funding is obtained, the program is sustained through volunteer contributions and sponsorships amounting to 25 cents per meal, which pays for the cost of raw ingredients, packaging and operational costs. Once food-packaging levels reach at least 1.1 million meals per year, the program is financially self-sustaining.
In 2007, Stop Hunger Now’s Operation Sharehouse packaged more than 100,000 meals in three days at:
• University of Southern Mississippi University – 50,976 meals
• Galloway UMC – 20,088 meals
• Meridian District – 14,766 meals
• Shaeffer UMC – 15,000 meals
In 2008, at the Mississippi Annual Conference, more than 100,000 meals were made with the help of more than 400 church leaders (who finished 24 hours ahead of schedule).