Feeding the need
By ANNE BLANKENSHIP
What happens when you bring together more than a thousand students, bins full of rice, dried vegetables and other ingredients and thousands of hairnets? It’s the ingredients for an enormous one-day food packaging effort, held ast Tuesday at Webster City High School.
And their goal? To fill 120,000 meal packets.
“That’s pretty incredible. We actually have three packaging lines, one here in the gym and two more in the lobbies,” said Georgie Filber, hunger fight manager for Meals from the Heartland.
Sponsored by the Webster City FFA chapter, the goal set was double that of the previous year, so they brought in some more students to help achieve the goal.
“There are I think 1,500 kids who are planning to help today,” Filber said.
Meals from the Heartland is a nonprofit hunger relief organization. They’ve been coordinating packaging projects since 2008.
“All in all, we’re closing in on the 150 million-meal mark,” Filber said. “We’ve sent those meals to about 30 different countries.”
While most of the meals are shipped overseas, Meals from the Heartland also helps feed people in the U.S. and Iowa through food pantries, back pack programs and disaster relief as needed.
The meal packets have four main ingredients – rice, vitamin powder, dried veggies and soy protein which is actually grown in Iowa. All of the ingredients are scooped into pouches, are weighed and sealed before being boxed for shipment.
“It goes to our warehouse and within a week or so, we’ll load it on a semi and it’ll start its journey to it’s final destination,” Filber said.
Meals from the Heartland holds packaging events all over the state, working with schools, churches, businesses and civic groups.
“It makes for a great community event and some businesses use it for team building opportunities,” he said.
The host group provides all of the funding for meal packaging. The FFA raised $16,000 to take on the project.
“This is the largest FFA pack that we have done at a school,” Filber said. “It’s a pretty special day.”
Kurt Veldhuizen, Webster City FFA advisor, said the FFA has hosted meal packaging days for three years.
“We wanted to do something to marquee our National FFA Week. Iowa FFA was working with Meals from the Heartland and so we reached out to them,” Veldhuizen said.
The first year started off small -30,000 meals with just high school students helping. Last year they doubled their efforts and packaged 60,000 meals.
“One of the elementary schools came to us and said they wanted to partner with the FFA on the project. Then the FFA officers suggested opening it up to all students in all of the schools,” he said.
The issue of raising the funds was of some concern, but Veldhuizen credited the Main Street USA Kiwanis and other sponsors for helping with that.
The packaging lines, set up on long tables, were sponsored by several area businesses, who even brought volunteers in to help with the event. Veldhuizen credited the financial support Farm Credit Services and Cactus Family Farms, along with the Kiwanis and others, to help bring the opportunity to Webster City.
Members of the Main Street USA Kiwanis were also on hand to help. For years, the group had sponsored packaging efforts in the community and were glad to help the FFA with the effort.
“We did small packaging with the community for about 15 years,” he said. The club no longer coordinates meal packaging, but decided to help when they learned of the FFA plans.
“When FFA decided to hold a packaging, we felt we could help raise funds,” Zahn said.
Veldhuizen said he was awazed at the enthusiasm as he looked around the room.
“Every single second through 12th grader in the district – including NEH, Stratford and St. Thomas – are helping,” Veldhuizen said.”It’s pretty amazing and we’re right on pace to finish our goals on time.”
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