WEST ALEXANDER – Four small church congregations in West Alexander and West Virginia are doing some pretty big things to provide nutritious disaster relief throughout the world.
On a recent Saturday morning, 150 volunteers manned fine-tuned assembly lines at the West Alexander Community Center and packed 51,000 meals in less than three hours for Stop Hunger Now, a mobile food-packaging organization that provides meals to support transformational development programs such as school feeding programs, vocational training programs, early childhood development programs, orphanages and medical clinics throughout the world.
Even more impressive?
Food for the meals was purchased with $13,000 donated by members of the Presbyterian and Methodist churches in West Alexander, Dallas (W.Va.) Methodist Church and Roneys Point United Presbyterian Church in Triadelphia, W.Va., bringing their three-year total to $30,000.
“I had an idea we could do it in this town,” said Anita McNinch, program coordinator and a member of West Alexander Presbyterian Church.
She learned about Stop Hunger Now when she attended a missions conference in New Wilmington.
What particularly tugged at her heartstrings was Jean Kendy, a second-grader from the Cite Soleil School in Haiti who is quoted in the Stop Hunger Now pamphlet as saying, “I love Stop Hunger Now rice a lot. … I can’t have enough of this rice. When my parents send me to school without anything to eat, they don’t worry because they know I will eat at school. I pray every day for the people who send the rice.”
“That quote sells it for me,” McNinch said.
Each meal, which costs 25 cents, consists of 1 cup of rice, 1 cup of soy, a “heaping” tablespoon of dehydrated vegetables and a vitamin pack with 22 vitamins.
Most of the food is distributed to Stop Hunger Now’s 65 partner countries, and some is provided to states devastated by floods and tornados. Residents in New Jersey and Oklahoma, for example, have been the beneficiaries of the fortified rice-soy meals. Last year, the meals packed in West Alexander were shipped to the Domincan Republic.
“We target areas where there is malnutrition, especially where there’s children,” said Richard Armenia, assistant program director and one of two Stop Hunger Now representatives from the Philadelphia distribution center overseeing the production in West Alexander.
Armenia, who has worked for Stop Hunger Now for about a year, said his group averages five packing parties a week, but “sometimes it’s even crazier,” with as many as 25 held in seven days.
In fact, when packing was completed in West Alexander, Armenia was headed to Moundsville (W.Va.) Penitentiary, where several hundred volunteers were expected to participate in another packing party later in the day.
And the volunteers in West Alexander didn’t let him down. They were scheduled to “work” from 9 a.m. to noon, but they were running ahead of schedule, so he got a head start on his trip to West Virginia.
“Once you catch on, it goes fast. It’s down to a science,” McNinch said.
Stop Hunger Now has distribution centers throughout the United States, and except for the tables, the organization provides everything – even the hair nets for the volunteers. Setup was completed a day in advance so all would run smoothly when packing began.
Five long rows of tables were manned by volunteers measuring the rice and soy and filling the plastic bags. The bags were then delivered to volunteers who weighed them, adding or subtracing rice to achieve a weight of 13.58 ounces, and sealed them.
There were some accidents along the way, with rice spilling onto the floor. But volunteers didn’t miss a beat, ready with a broom to sweep the floor clean.
The completed bags were stacked on tables, and once 36 bags were received, they were boxed. Meals have a two-year shelf life, which is documented on the box, along with the name of the organization that packed it. Instructions on how to cook the meals are on the bag.
“We have packaged 40 million meals,” said Armenia, referring to the Philadelphia distribution center, “ and we’ve never had a meal sold on the black market or confiscated.”
In addition to the church volunteers, 30 teens from First Love Christian Academy in Washington were recruited by their teachers, Lindsay Klimcheck and Allen Kuhn, who are youth leaders at West Alexander Presbyterian Church, to join the packing party.
“We’re having fun and helping people,” said Klimcheck, who was stacking completed bags along with teen Sarah Klein. “That’s what it’s all about.”