Kannapolis church hosts effort to end hunger

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 28, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — Hunger still affects millions of people worldwide.
Sunday afternoon, about 100 volunteers teamed up to turn Trinity United Methodist Church’s fellowship hall into a temporary food factory to drive that number down.
The church hosted a food-packing event for Stop Hunger Now, an international aid organization based in Raleigh.
The charity, established in 1998, packages and deliver simple, nutritious meals for distribution to children abroad.
The goal on Sunday: Package and assemble over 18,000 meals.
Ann and Wayne Overcash, members of Trinity UMC, brought Stop Hunger Now to Kannapolis.
Wayne Overcash said that, in recent years, the couple had participated in Stop Hunger Now events at the United Methodist Church’s Western North Carolina Annual Conference at Lake Junaluska.
At last summer’s conference, Ann said, “Our Bishop (Larry Goodpaster) asked every church to come up with a mission program that they had never done.”
The church council decided to host Stop Hunger Now based in part on the Overcashes’ experiences.
About 2 p.m. Sunday, the fellowship hall’s tables had been moved and reconfigured into stations for making meals.
Mark Barnes, food packaging coordinator for Stop Hunger Now, gave directions to the group of about 90 volunteers — all of them outfitted in sanitary hats and plastic gloves.
Each of the meal bags contains a mix of dry rice, soy meal and dehydrated vegetables, with a vitamin-enriched seasoning packet.
“This bag right here feeds six (children),” Barnes said, holding one up as he addressed the group.
“And sometimes the Lord might multiply it, it might feed hundreds, but we strategize for about six people,” Barnes said.
It was a precision operation.
First, volunteers scooped measured amounts of rice, soy meal and veggies from basins into plastic meal bags.
Whenever a table had a tray of full bags, someone would call for a runner to carry them to the packaging station.
There, the bags were checked and weighed, with extra rice added to bags that weren’t full enough.
Volunteers removed excess air to help keep the food fresh.
Finally, the bags were handed across the table where they were sealed shut, using a heated press.
“We’re probably doing 15 events a week” – some larger than the one at Trinity, some smaller.
As Barnes was speaking, a gong sounded loudly nearby, followed by cheers from the volunteers.
“That’s a thousand,” Barnes said, “Every time the gong goes, that’s 1,000 meals.”
After just 20 minutes of packaging, they were already more than one-tenth of the way to their goal.
In an hour and 45 minutes, they had packed 18,200 meals, Ann Overcash said.
Gail Puntch of Kannapolis, member of Trinity UMC, said she had heard of the program from the Overcashes — “and when they asked, I signed up,” she said.
She measured rice into meal bags, while fellow parishioner Huyla Jackson added vegetables.
The room was filled nearly brim-full with people, moving in a tight traffic pattern, many smiling and joking.
Every time the gong went off — more rapidly, as the workers got into a groove — the cheers in the hall got louder.
The oldest volunteer at the event sat very near to one of the youngest.
Helen Berry, age 92 and a half, worked just two seats down from 6-year-old Ian Fongeny.
Berry and Fongeny’s dad, Michael, worked sealing the bags for packing. Ian looked on.
“I think hunger is something that affects families,” Michael said, “so why wouldn’t families come together to help fix it?”
“Thrilling,” Berry said of the work. Her wish for those who would eat the meals prepared Sunday: “That they would not be so hungry, that they would realize that many people are concerned with helping them.”
“It’s such a small thing, for such a large need,” Berry said.
In addition to adults and youth from Trinity, the youth of Crossroads United Methodist in Kannapolis also volunteered.
The meals were packed into boxes marked “HUMANITARIAN RELIEF,” sealed and loaded onto a truck for shipping.
As the boxes were loaded, Barnes said the meals would be distributed through educational institutions, especially schools and orphanages, in an effort to “break the cycle of poverty.”
Barnes said about one-third of the meals would go to Haiti, which he said still faces challenges more than three years after the earthquake that devastated the island nation.
He said Stop Hunger Now has worked with 500,000 volunteers since 2005 alone.
According to the charity’s website, Stop Hunger Now has packaged nearly 86 million meals overall.
In addition to providing the volunteers for the two-hour meal packing session, the church raised the $4,506 cost of the supplies.
“It’s 25 cents a meal,” Ann Overcash said. The church raised the money in about two months, just by asking the parish for donations.
All in all, Wayne said, the turnout and the support of the community were “more than we had hoped for.”
“We’re all part of a miracle today,” he said.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.