Volunteers from churches fill boxes for the needy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 19, 2012

By David Freeze
For the Salisbury Post
Centenary Methodist Church was the scene of some frenetic activity on Saturday as about 200 volunteers gathered to pack food for Kids Against Hunger Charlotte. The goal for the day was to pack slightly more than 50,000 meals. The volunteers met that and did even more.
Carla Kluttz, a member at Centenary, helped raise $2,500 and get her church set up as a site for packing meals.
The money is used for meal ingredients, boxes and shipping. Kluttz participated in a meal-packing in Oak Island, and then started planning in September 2011 for Saturday’s event. She organized all the volunteers from several churches in Rowan and Iredell counties into two shifts and made sure that everyone was clear on how to pack the meals. The volunteers watched a video about where the meals were going and how their efforts would make a difference.
Kids Against Hunger Charlotte has no administrative costs, helping to hold each meal cost at about 15 cents. The meals are packed into boxes at the work site. Volunteers put a precise amount of dehydrated chicken, soy and white rice in a bag that must weigh between 390 and 400 grams. Each bag is sealed, then pounded to remove air and flatten it for shipping. Exactly 36 bags go into each box. Any overage or deficit in weight might cause customs to delay the shipment. An ocean-going shipping container holds 285,000 meals.
Jeff Yoh, who volunteers along with his wife, Suzanne, to direct logistics and procedures for Kids Against Hunger Charlotte, said, “Our method is to work in churches, YMCAs, etc. and have large groups do the packing. No one gets paid to pack these meals, so every cent goes into the meals. We have been shipping 100 percent of what we package overseas, but will soon start using about 10 percent locally.”
Suzanne Yoh, according to Jeff, is the backbone of the organization.
“Jeff and I looked around and wanted a way for the family to volunteer together,” she said. “We found it with Kids Against Hunger. We have helped send out over 1 million meals at this point, and we have been to Nicaragua twice. Most of the meals will go there since Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, just behind Haiti.”
Jeff and Suzanne’s children also volunteer. Jeffrey, at 18, Alec at 16, and Abby at 14 enjoy the results of their efforts and the camaraderie of the packaging days.
Volunteers worked at long tables, with the raw ingredients starting at one end and ending at the other packed in the shipping boxes. Many worked side-by-side with someone they had just met.
Rovena “Beanie” Cranford was the oldest worker at age 85.
“I just like to do for other people,” she said. “Everything has changed so much, and I have seen many things. But always, I have thought of others.”
Cranford, from First Baptist in Mooresville, worked beside Caleb Weddington of Vanderburg Methodist in Mooresville. Weddington will soon be 16, and he had plans for a softball game that afternoon. In the meantime, he and Cranford shared lively conversation and lots of smiles.
The youngest volunteer was Elizabeth Jones of Triplett Methodist. She just turned 5 years old but was plenty old enough to handle several jobs during her shift. Elizabeth had been pounding bags, adding scoops of rice and decorating the shipping boxes. She worked side-by-side with her mother, Leah, who said, “I like for my kids to be involved in helping others.”
Asked her favorite job is, Elizabeth said, “I love mashing the bags!”
Many people are repeat volunteers, often helping to raise funds to make meal-packing events happen. Randy Woodward of Charlotte came as a part of his singles club, the Smoking Hot Fun Group.
“I went to one of these and really felt good,” he said, “so I decided there was much more that I could do. We had a successful fundraiser, but mostly I just am here to work. I enjoy running the bag sealer.
“There are lots of charitable people involved with this organization. I am approaching retirement and want to be engaged in doing good things.”
Patty Safrit brought members of her youth group from Unity Presbyterian in Woodleaf.
“We want to do this at our church. This will give us a chance to see what it is like,” she said.
All trucking and storage is paid for by Samaritans International. The trucks, pallets and forklifts all belong to them. Samaritans International supports feeding programs in Nicaragua, Haiti and Kenya.
“We want people to know about us,” said Suzanne Yoh. “It is easy to volunteer and there are a lot of photos on our website. It is fun and very rewarding. Visit us at www.kidsagainsthungercharlotte.org.”
While talking, she prepared some of the chicken casserole that the volunteers had been packing in dried form. Carla Kluttz was the first to taste it, just as she deserved to be.

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