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St. Luke’s prepares 10,000 meals for the hungry

By Mandy Monath
For The Salisbury Post
“Runner!” somebody yells. A small boy wearing a white hairnet comes flying across the Parish Hall and slams down a full plastic bin. He gathers up three empty bins and disappears.
I grab a bag from the bin ó it feels heavy ó and place it on the scale in front of me ó 394 grams. I spoon a little rice out of the top ó384. Great! I place the bag into another bin, and the woman across from me snatches it up, smooths out the air and sticks it into the heat sealer in front of her. There are 20 people working our long table, hurriedly weighing bags and sealing them shut.
Behind us at two other tables, 20 more volunteers scoop food into the bags. In front of us, other people are counting full bags, packing and sealing them into cardboard boxes, and loading them onto a large cart. Teens from our youth group push the cart towards the door where the truck is waiting outside. We’re all wearing white hairnets. The gong crashes! We’ve just packed 1,000 meals!
“Hooray!” we shout. But nobody looks up from their work, nobody stops moving. We’ve got 9,000 meals to go.
– – –
On Friday night, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Salisbury, volunteers packed 10,000 meals in less than two hours. Under the Stop Hunger Now food packaging program, these meals will be sent to feeding programs in schools and orphanages around the world.
As we gathered in the Parish Hall, the Rev. Whayne Hoagland Jr., St. Luke’s rector, introduced Mickey Horner, Charlotte Program Coordinator for Stop Hunger Now.
Horner, an intense man, a man on a mission, gave us the facts: Six billion people on the planet, one billion of them starving. That’s 25,000 people dying of hunger every day, most of them children. It’s like 125 jumbo jets, loaded with children, crashing ó every single day. If actual jets were crashing, people would be crying out for a solution. But deaths from starvation happen more quietly, one at at time, in places most of us have never visited.
As Horner explained, school feeding programs are “a pivotal step” in the lives of the poor. “Because children in impoverished areas are often sent to school if they will be fed,” these meals give them not only life-saving nutrition, but also the educational means to lift themselves out of poverty, Horner said.
After the facts, Horner gave his thanks to the church, particularly the St. Luke’s Foundation. The Foundation’s foreign missions fund, which was started with a gift from several St. Luke’s families, particularly the late Dr. and Mrs. Frank B. Marsh, has granted $25,000 to fund 10 such Stop Hunger Now events throughout North Carolina, through Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Charlotte. With the Foundation’s grant, 100,000 meals will be sent to schools and orphanages worldwide.
Now, said Horner, it was time to get to work. Four ingredients go in every bag. Soy protein, dehydrated vegetables, a flavor tablet and rice. They must be assembled in that order. The flavor tablet spices up the mix and adds 21 essential vitamins and minerals. At each station, four volunteers scoop one ingredient each, with a fifth person manning a big funnel. Each filled bag is then weighed, with rice added or subtracted to hit the goal of 380 to 385 grams. Each bag, when re-hydrated and cooked, will yield six meals. Sealed bags are counted, packed into boxes, and loaded onto the truck for shipment. You must work carefully and quickly, said Horner. Every grain of rice you spill will be saved for chicken feed, but it’s one grain some child did not eat.
It all sounded a little daunting. We had 75 people between the ages of 4 and 65. I wasn’t sure we could get organized to do this in two hours, much less do it right. The teens from youth group were staying all night as part of their 30-hour famine project, organized by the Rev. Cecelia Schroeder, assistant rector. Would they have to pack food until dawn? I definitely didn’t want to man the scales. I’m not a math person, and I really couldn’t think straight in this hairnet.
But somehow, it all fell into place. People just lined up at the tables and started working. Suddenly, there was a noisy, happy, urgent buzz in the room, and when Father Whayne cranked up Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, there was no looking back.
Of course, I ended up manning the scales. Everything else was a blur. My husband had his own scale. My oldest daughter was somewhere behind me scooping dried vegetables, and the younger one, along with the five or six other “runners,” was a streak of constant motion delivering bags, retrieving bins, and fetching more rice.
At about 7:45, the gong crashed for the tenth time. We had packed 10,074 meals. In a matter of minutes, the equipment was all stowed away and loaded onto the truck, the tables were folded and put away, and the last grain of rice ó there wasn’t much ó was swept from the floor and put into the bin for chicken feed. We got to sample tiny cups of the cooked food. It was pretty tasty and very filling.
Before he left, Mickey Horner emptied a red donation box and counted out the money. There were a few checks and a lot of bills. At 25 cents per meal, we were already on our way to another event.
As we headed home, I thought about the words printed in the church bulletin from a second grade girl in Haiti. “I pray every day for the people who send the rice.” For more information about Stop Hunger Now, visit the Web site at stophungernow.org or contact St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at 704-633-3221.
Mandy Monath is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

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