Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

November 10, 2012

Hundreds pack food for hungry children

NAPPANEE —  Jesus said, “Feed the hungry” and 8,000 volunteers are attempting to do just that from a temporary food packing and distribution site set up at Nappanee Missionary Church this week.

The church has become a mobile pack site and is in fact one of the largest single events the Feed My Starving Children organization has worked with in this time frame. From Nov. 5 through today, 20 shifts of volunteers (400 people are needed per shift ) create an impressive assembly line to package up food for children in 70 countries around the world.

This is the third year Nappanee Missionary Church has been a packing site.

The Rev. Joe Focht said in 2010, volunteers packed 300,000 meals; last year they packed 1.2 million and this year the original goal of 2 million has gone up to 2.1 million meals purchased, packaged and shipped.

He said the church buys the meals at a cost of about 22 cents a meal. At the Nappanee Missionary Church site they were packaging “MannaPack Rice,” which contains rice, textured soy protein, dehydrated vegetables and artificial chicken flavor with a vitamin-mineral blend. The meal is formulated for ages 1 year to adult and is multi-culturally acceptable, the pastor said. The pre-mix of vitamins and minerals makes up for deficiencies that might be present. The organization also has two “potato packs” for infants.

Nappanee Missionary Church became involved because Head Pastor Dave Engbrecht found out about a church that did a mobile packaging event and he said they highly recommended it and said FMSC was a great organization.

“The congregation totally embraced the concept,” he said.

But it’s not just the congregation that’s involved. They’ve reached out to schools, families and businesses to help with this massive undertaking and the response has been great.

“One of the things we like about this organization is they use embedded missionaries in the countries to distribute the meals — they’re building long-term relationships, not just dropping the food,” he said.

More than 80 charitable organizations of different denominations are listed on the organization’s annual report as recipients of the meal packets with a notation that many others are not listed for security reasons. The top 10 countries receiving more than 100 million meals last year include Haiti, Nicaragua, Philippines, Kenya, El Salvador, Honduras, Somalia, Liberia, Guatemala and North Korea. But many other countries are also listed, including Afghanistan, Japan, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and more.

According to site supervisor Ursula Maley, the meals packed in Nappanee last year went to Somalia, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Haiti and Djibuti.

Engbrecht said the MannaPack Rice meals “are almost the perfect meal for having a well-nourished child; it provides what they need with the chicken, rice, soy and vegetables.”

He said U.S. companies Cargill and General Mills supply the ingredients and the meals and the packaging is to FDA standards. The packing system also meets those standards with everything being weighed and all who enter the food packing area must wear hair nets. FMSC has a staff of seven on site to make sure all goes smoothly.

“It’s an amazing process,” Engbrecht said. “Often you’ll see three generations working together.”

Upon entering the church hall, a virtual food packing plant has been set up — there are tables of volunteers placing labels on the plastic meal pouches, while others make up boxes. There are tables upon tables of people of all ages scooping ingredients, weighing ingredients and pouring them into the pouches. Those pouches are then sealed, checked to ensure the seal is good and placed in boxes. It takes 36 meal pouches to fill a box and once a box is full — a loud cheer goes up at the table.

“Runners” have the job of keeping the ingredients filled at the tables and gathering the filled boxes to be taken to the distribution area where the boxes are sealed and placed on pallets. There are 36 boxes to a pallet. The pallets are taken on a skid loader to a semi-trailer waiting outside the door to be filled.

The day a Goshen News reporter was there, employees from Turtle Top in New Paris had just completed an impressive 27 pallets in a 90-minute shift — that’s 972 boxes or 34,992 meals. There’s a half hour clean up between shifts and new volunteers come in to get a brief training and the assembly line gears up again.

Nappanee Missionary Church had to fill 8,000 volunteer slots for the event, so businesses, including Turtle Top, Newmar in Nappanee and Forest River in Goshen, among others, are a huge help. Many schools participate as well — Nappanee Elementary, NorthWood High School, Triton High School, Warsaw schools, Jimtown schools and Bethel College are among the schools volunteering.

“That’s been the exciting part,” Pastor Engbrecht said. “People from the community, so many organizations, businesses and schools working together — it’s way more than our congregation.”

Jimtown High School Principal Jeff Zeigler had a number of students volunteering on Tuesday. Zeigler is a member of the church and said this is the first year the students have participated. “They’re doing a great job”, he said.

There were 200 student volunteers on Tuesday and another 250 were scheduled for Thursday. “Four hundred and fifty of our 600 students will be involved,” he said

A trio of students working together shared their thoughts. “I think it’s amazing,” Joy Main exclaimed.

“The fact that we can feed 2.1 million kids in Kenya and Africa…” Craig Spurgeon added.

“And that we get to be a part of helping out,” continued Ally Vicsik, “It’s a good feeling.”

“Runner” Tanner Adams stopped long enough to say he was having fun — “All my friends are here and we’re having a good time helping out.”

FMSC

Maley explained FMSC operates in two ways:

1 — They have permanent sites — three in Minnesota, three in Illinois and one in Tempe, Ariz., where volunteers can register online to go and volunteer. At the permanent sites volunteers can choose to donate toward the cost of the meals or just give of their time.

2 — The mobile packaging sites operate in all 50 states and staff goes where they are invited and the event organizers are responsible for raising the cost of the meals and getting enough volunteers.

Church member Linna Sommers was in charge of finding and registering those volunteers and she said the church needed to raise $440,000 to do 2 million meals. With the recent increase to 2.1, it would be more than that. A lot of money came from donations from the congregation. One Sunday all the money collected went toward this cause. But lots of businesses, outside individuals and schools donated funds.

“I just found out that Nappanee Elementary raised $300 by having a PJ day,” Sommers said. “Kids brought in a quarter to wear pj’s to school that day.”

Maley said while a church in Illinois did 4 million meals in six weeks’ time, the Nappanee Missionary Church event is “the largest single event in a week’s time. It’s unprecedented what they’ve done here.”

“All I can say is God’s gracious hand is on this church,” she said. “This community of people has a tremendous heart for outreach in the world. God said ‘come with me’ and that’s all I see here — an answer to that call.”

Ursula continued, “I’m blown away, actually, by their wanting to come and help us. It’s not easy and it’s not cheap. We only come with the materials; they have to find volunteers and a half-million dollars.”

Long-lasting effects

When Engbrecht was asked how this event impacted the congregation he said, “I think it’s helped us learn to live beyond ourselves — alerted us to the plight of hunger around the world. Eighteen thousand children a day die of starvation. This helps us see we can make a difference.”

However, the pastor said they teach their mission is three-fold: local, regional and global.

“We need to do as much here as we do around the world — but overseas there’s no safety net,” he said.

He summed up the event by saying, “I’m just excited to be in a community that gets it; that has a heart and passion for the least of these. I just stand amazed that right here in southern Elkhart County we can impact the world.”

Maley is equally amazed by the local event. “Their dedication and their big hearts — we’re dumbfounded,” she said. “I don’t know how else to describe it except that God is in it.”

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