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A different kind of potluck

Community eats packaged meals to raise money for more meals to feed the hungry.

It may be as difficult for children in third world countries to understand sliding off a snow covered road as it is for central Minnesotans to imagine the gripping stomach pain of starvation. That kind of understanding isn’t necessary for one to help the other.

The Clarissa Senior Center had already hosted one packaging event. They produced 5,000 sealed nutritionally balanced meals (6 per bag) of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables, vitamins and minerals. Nearly 30 people of all ages put on hair nets and gloves, followed food safety rules, measured, weighed, and sealed the bags. They said it was a lot of fun.

“It’s humbling to know you’re helping starving kids,” said Jerry and Donna Schnettler who helped at the packaging event and attended the fundraiser.

Dennis and Ardelle Feda enjoyed the project, too. “We got a little competitive,” admitted Dennis, explaining that the two tables that had been set up formed assembly teams. It wasn’t just the fun but also knowing that their activity would ultimately affect lives in a positive way. “We’ll do another one when we’ve raised the money,” said Dennis who is a member of the senior center. Though their goal wasn’t met that night, they know they will meet that goal and have another packaging event sometime soon.

Similar area events have been held at Luther Crest Bible Camp near Alexandria, and at the Assembly of God Church in Long Prairie. Everyone involved expressed enjoyment in the well organized activity. They also have a better understanding of want versus need. Packaging events have been held throughout the area invarious communities.

Kids Against Hunger’s founder, Richard Proudfit, experienced those same feelings first hand when he visited Honduras in 1974. It was after Hurricane Fifi hit the Central American country. Thousands had died in the hurricane and many more in the floods following torrential rains. Proudfit was there as an engineer working with a medical relief team. He was deeply affected by seeing children dying from malnutrition and starvation and knew he could do something about it. Nonetheless, it took more than 20 years before he formed the non-profit Kids Against Hunger.

During those years, he experienced varying degrees of success in alleviating hunger. One of the problems was that the stomachs of starving children couldn’t digest just any kind of food. Proudfit, of New Hope, Minnesota, asked several food industry executives for their ideas for an ideal food for starving children. They tested various formulations of nutrient fortified dehydrated packaged foods. Those formulations were refined while being mindful of cultural taste preferences and religious prohibitions around the world. The result is the nutritionally complex well balanced meal formulation being packaged in communities around the country today.

Each serving has nearly the daily requirement of protein for the average two to three-year-old child. It has 1% fat and 14% of the recommended carbohydrates and between 50% and 70% of vitamin and mineral requirements based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Proudfit’s goal was not only to develop nutritious meals that were easy to prepare, tasted good and had a long shelf life, he also had to develop a system of assembling the packages and distributing them. He traveled the world to meet with organizations and groups who knew how to get the food to where it was most needed. He set up a facility in Minneapolis where volunteers gathered to package the food. When the physical restraints of that building could no longer meet the demand, he came up with a system of satellite facilities in cities and smaller communities across the United States and Canada. This system, which has grown to 95 locations in 27 states and Canadian provinces, not only allows for packaging the food but also generating the necessary funds to pay for the ingredients, packaging, and distribution costs in an ongoing way.

One of the new permanent satellite locations is at 810 22nd Avenue in Alexandria. Carol Wenner serves as the fundraising director for that office. She says that other senior center groups in the area are planning fundraising events and that service clubs are being encouraged to match their efforts. There are other creative approaches to the packaging events. “We have a couple businesses that are including a Kids Against Hunger packaging event into their employee company picnics.” Living Word Lutheran Church has a packaging event scheduled for April 25th and Shalom Community Lutheran Church in Starbuck is making ongoing contributions to Kids Against Hunger as part of their outreach ministries.

Most of the food packaged for Kids Against Hunger is destined for overseas relief. While hunger exists in America, relief programs such as food shelves, food stamp programs and church pantries prevent starvation like that seen in other parts of the world. Yet, a portion of the casserole mixes always stay in the community where they’ve been packaged. Of the packages made at the Clarissa event, some stayed in Todd County. Dale Hanson, a member of the Clarissa Senior Center said, “We split three boxes of 36 bags each for the local senior centers to distribute.” He also noted that it took only about an hour and a half to package the food destined for, as he put it, “Helping starving children get back to life.” The majority of the boxes were sent to the facility in New Hope and from there would be sent where they were needed.

At 80 years old, Richard Proudfit is still actively spreading the word about his effort devoted to, as is printed on each package, “Feeding families around the world…and around the corner.” Ongoing goals include:

• To continue setting up food packaging satellites in each state of the USA.

• To spearhead community and youth volunteer packaging of Kids Against Hunger’s highly nutritious meals.

• To deliver Kids Against Hunger’s food in the USA and worldwide through partnerships with other humanitarian organizations.

It’s obvious that one man can do a lot but by multiplying that effort, much more can be done to eradicate world hunger.

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