'They saved lives'


Volunteers pack 102,000 meals for hungry 

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor 

More than 400 volunteers packaged food products in Mississippi over three days and accomplished one important goal.

“They saved lives,” said Mike Ward, who helped organize the Project Sharehouse events held March 29-31 at four sites. 

“It was remarkable,” said Ward, who serves on the board of directors of Stop Hunger Now, which administers Project Sharehouse. “The turnout in every instance was better than we expected. We had more volunteers than we expected.” 

The volunteers packaged 102,000 meals that will be shipped to Africa to feed starving people. The food is a mixture of soy protein, a vitamin-fortified flavoring powder, dehydrated vegetables and rice. Each package creates six meals, meaning the volunteers filled 17,000 packages. 

At each packaging site, some of the food was prepared so volunteers could have a taste. While most agreed it won’t soon make the menu of a gourmet restaurant, the food was tasty. 

The largest turnout was at the University of Southern Mississippi where Ward is on faculty. He estimated 250 volunteers worked two-hour shifts. Ward pointed out that volunteers at each of the sites – Jackson Galloway Memorial UMC, Meridian Wesley UMC and the Starkville district office – represented all aspects of the communities. 

“One of the (highlights) was the diversity of people who came out,” said Ward, spouse of Bishop Hope Morgan Ward. “We had students, faculty, children and seniors on walkers. We had persons of multiple faiths, denominations and ethnicities.” 

At Hattiesburg, one shift included two children who needed to stand on chairs to reach the tables and seniors who needed chairs to sit on while they worked. The event also attracted six members of Girl Scout Troop 121 affiliated with Oak Grove United Methodist Church, which donated $50 from its cookie-sales money, and the entire faculty of Forrest County Agricultural High School, who came on an in-service day. 

Rod Brooks, CEO of Stop Hunger Now, and Ward said volunteers also seem to like being paired in groups with people they don’t know.  

USM student Tabitha Williams of Biloxi said she volunteered to be involved in outreach “to another country.” 

“I wanted to help somebody 1,000 miles away get their basic needs,” she said.

Williams admitted the activity was different from what she expected. “I though we would be putting canned goods into a box,” said the 21-year-old senior. “This was hands-on putting the food into packages. It was much better than putting cans in a box.” 

Working in five-person teams, volunteers poured the ingredients through a funnel into plastic bags. The bags were then weighed, heat sealed and packed into boxes. 

The food was shipped to a warehouse in North Carolina and will be shipped from there to Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Tanzania. Ward said he was especially glad Zimbabwe will receive some of the food because of the covenant relationship between the Mississippi Conference and the Zimbabwe conferences of The United Methodist Church. 

Heather Sanchez of Laurel, a USM graduate student in anthropology, said the event was “right up her alley” since she’s interested in developing sustainable agricultural systems in emerging countries. 

“I think you learn about yourself when you get involved in service activities,” Sanchez said. “I learned there are other people with those goals; you’re not alone. It gives you a little bit of hope when you see this kind of turnout.” 

Brooks said the food won’t stay in North Carolina long. It will be shipped within four to six week after arriving at the warehouse. “There is more demand than we’re able to meet,” Brooks said.  

Stop Hunger Now tries to work with small, hunger-fighting organizations in the nations where the food will be shipped, he said. Those groups then distribute the food. Most often the food is provided to schools and orphanages or other situations where the donation is not intended to be long term. The food is also provided in emergency situations such as natural disasters. 

In addition to taking part, volunteers were asked to contribute 25 cents per meal to help cover the cost of the ingredients. Ward said final financial figures were not available yet on the goal of raising $25,000. The 102,000 meals exceeded the goal of 100,000 meals.