Food packathon and the enjoyment of doing God’s work

A completed case contains 40 bags of six meals each, ready to be sealed.
A completed case contains 40 bags of six meals each, ready to be sealed.

LANDIS —“When you are doing your work for God, it is always a happy day!” said Dennis Redfern of First Reformed Church.

Members of First Reformed were in the process of packing meals for “Feed the Hunger,” hoping to package 50,000 meals by that Saturday afternoon. But the resounding theme was that they were having fun with a purpose, with lots of laughter and joking to go around.


First Reformed has partnered with Feed the Hunger for three years, sending dehydrated meals to Haiti, Bangladesh, Kenya, India, Jamaica and other overseas areas.

Redfern heads up the meal packing project at First Reformed.

“I first participated in a packathon in Burlington and thought that our church could do it too,” he said, “Now we do this each February. This is our third year.”

The first group of about 50 volunteers gathered at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 21, then listened to Scott Hahn of Feed the Hunger describe what to expect for the rest of the evening. Similar groups would return to package more meals on Saturday in two shifts, 9-11 a.m. and noon-2 p.m.

For the first time, local volunteers would pack some meals that would be shipped domestically.

There is a difference in the meals shipped overseas. The usual dehydrated meal includes carrots, potatoes, celery, soy nuggets for protein, vitamin powder and rice. The vitamin powder includes 20 different vitamins and minerals. Rice is considered the most popular food in the world.

Beans replace the soy nuggets as the protein additive for the meals destined to be shipped in the United States. Currently, only two sites have been selected to receive the domestic version. Those sites are Lynch, Ky., and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Feed the Hunger staff had already unloaded a large trailer parked outside the church, stocking the work area with rice and all the other ingredients in two-ton bulk bags.

Each bag of the final packed product will provide six meals, and 40 bags made a completed case. Each bag and each case had to make specific weights before being stacked on pallets for shipping.

Feed the Hunger staff gave the church volunteers their last-minute instructions, asking them to enjoy the evening but to remember that they were in a FDA food-packing zone.

Christian music played loudly in the background as each table and crew worked to out-package the other crews. Loud cheers were soon heard as each case was completed, and even louder calls for a resupply of ingredients added to the fun.

Pastor David Franks worked beside his wife, Dawn, as they weighed individual bags. When the pastor mentioned the proper weight with a grin, Dawn fired back, “The weight of the bags is just right, and so is my weight!”

Madison Sides looked at Dawn and said, “I thought he was asking about your weight too!”

Dave Roberts was working at another table.

“We have Henry Ford to thank for this,” Roberts said. “He created the assembly line.”

Movement soon became coordinated for maximum efficiency, with the right rhythm for mixing the individual ingredients. Roberts worked alongside teenagers Gabe Welch, Lucas Britt and Kaleb Beaver.

Welch said, “I had seen Mr. Roberts before, but we hadn’t really talked. Now we are, and this is a fun way to get to know people.”

Patricia Reece held each bag under a large funnel as it was filled, then passed them on to be weighed and sealed. When told that another table had processed more cases than her group, Reece said, “We’re concentrating! You better weigh their bags to make sure nothing unusual is going on over there.”

Mark Howard worked with his wife, Ellen, son, Cole, and daughter, Cassie. “Doing this will help the kids understand that they are really blessed, and that others may not have those same blessings,” Mark Howard said. “They see the problems on TV, and I hope this packathon motivates them to do more.” His daughter chimed in. “It is a great opportunity to have fellowship while providing blessings to others,” she said. “This is my first time, and I love the music too.”

Cierra Hunter, a 14-year-old student at South Rowan High School, was charged with making sure the cases of finished product made the proper weight. If not, more bags were added.

“This is my fourth time packing this product,” Cierra said, “and third at this church. I love it! I get so excited. I am able to give something. ...

“I plan to work all three packaging sessions. I will be exhausted, but God only knows the good that we will do by packing these meals.”

Feed the Hunger volunteer Jason Ferrara, a detention officer in Alamance County, works about six of the packathons each year.

“These volunteers are literally feeding the kids,” Ferrara said. “It is easy to write a check, but they are here tonight doing much more.”

Eventually 277,000 meals will be packaged and loaded on a container for shipment. Those shipped overseas will take as long as five months to arrive at their destination.

Ferrara said some larger churches meet their food overseas and pass it out. First Reformed hopes to do the same by meeting a shipment when it arrives in Lynch, Ky.

Church members paid $65 each to participate in the packathon. Vivian Stallings, now 82 and just retired from Belk’s, was able to work because another member paid her way. “I am really glad to see that we are packing for those in the United States too,” she said. “They need our help. It means a lot to me to be here to help in my church.”

Before the night was over, church members would lay their hands on the finished product and thank God for his help. The results for the night included 22,080 packaged meals, putting First Reformed ahead of pace to meet their overall goal.

Pastor Franks declared the packathon a success. “I’ve still got all my fingers,” he said. “The heart of our church and community continues to grow. I remember a time not too long ago when we couldn’t have done this. What a pleasure it was to do God’s ministry and have fun too.”

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