Faith members Rise Against Hunger

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Pastor Ben says the Rise Against Hunger project on May 7 was a big success.

About 70 church members took part, working in the Parish Hall to prepare some 10,000 meals that will be shipped to poor people overseas.

"This is just what Jesus said we should do," Pastor Ben said, quoting the Gospel of John: “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”

Amazingly, it only took about 90 minutes to prepare the thousands of meals.

Rise Against Hunger is a non-profit based in North Carolina. It has been working for about 20 years to end hunger worldwide. Its leaders say nearly 800 million people around the globe don’t get the food they need to live healthy lives.

Faith Lutheran’s Jim Kirks knew about Rise Against Hunger and proposed a meal-packaging event as a good project for the Chico congregation.

The May 7 effort at Faith Lutheran began with Andrew Dejesus, one of Rise Against Hunger’s 150 employees, driving to Chico from the agency’s Norrthern California center in Hayward. In his truck he brought the ingredients to make the 10,000 meals, along with other equipment, such as vinyl gloves, head coverings, scales and plastic bins.

By the time the church service was over, everything was ready up for the 70 volunteers who were prepared to work. Tables had been set up around the hall with supplies.

Most of the volunteers divided up into teams of six. They stood, one team to a table, forming small-scale assembly lines to do the packaging.

Here’s how it worked. One person took a plastic bag, about the size of a gallon freezer bag, popped in a packet of powdered vitamins and passed the bag to the next person. That person got a heaping scoop of dehydrated soy flour and passed the bag to the person next to her. He put in a large scoop of dehydrated vegetables — carrots, onions, bell peppers, celery and tomatoes. The next person added a cup of dehydrated rice. Finally, someone standing in front of a scale weighed the package. If it was a few grams too light, he added a little rice. Too heavy, he took out a bit of rice. The weight must be nearly exact to ensure that shipping costs are what has been projected.

Other volunteers served as “runners.” Whenever a team filled a bin with half a dozen or so packed meals, they carried the meals to tables where other people sealed the plastic bags. Once sealed, the meals can be cooked anytime within the next two years. They can be used to make soup or a fried-rice type of dish.

Dejesus, the Rise Against Hunger staffer, played recorded Motown music, to get volunteers into the flow, and whenever 1,000 meals had been packaged, he rang a loud gong to let everyone know.

“What I really appreciate about Rise Against Hunger is it allows for people of all ages to work together,” Pastor Ben said. “There were a number of kids as well as some of the oldest members of the congregation.”

“I think it was awesome,” said Rita Bova, co-chair of the Social Ministry Team, which organized the project. “When you do this kind of event, it brings everybody together. We’re reaching out to people in need in the world.”

People who volunteered for the event said not only did they feel good about doing something helpful, but it was fun.

“It’s team building,” said Jordan Marvin, manager of Rise Against Hunger’s Northern California center in Hayward. “It’s a really unique opportunity for all ages.”

Although it was started by a church minister, 19 years ago, Rise Against Hunger is not a religious organization. It works with people of all faiths and secular organizations, as well.

Many churches sponsor packaging events like the one at Faith Lutheran. Service clubs and businesses also host events.

Ray Buchanan, a United Methodist minister, started Rise Against Hunger in 1998. The first meal-packaging event was held in 2005. Since then, the organization estimates it has distributed 204 million meals to people in 71 countries.

One aim of Rise Against Hunger is to build a movement of people who are aware of world hunger and concerned about ending it. That’s why it works to involve ordinary people in its anti-hunger campaign.

Sending meals to poor countries isn’t the only thing Rise Against Hunger does. It also advocates for changes in laws and policies that will help end hunger. And it provides technical assistance to developing nations.

The meal packaging-projects are self-sustaining. To host a project like the one at Faith Lutheran, a church or other organization must come up with about $3,000. That covers the cost of meal ingredients, other supplies, transportation and staff time and the price of shipping the food overseas.

Rita said Faith Lutheran’s Social Ministry Team held an ice cream social, sold cinnamon rolls and put on other events to help raise the $3,000. The church put in some money from its budget as well.

Marvin said Rise Against Hunger works with other non-profits overseas. He said these partners are very carefully vetted to make sure they are honest and will deliver the meals to the people who need them.

A large proportion of the meals are used in school feeding programs, Marvin said. A smaller percentage is sent to places where disasters have struck.

Since its beginning, Rise Against Hunger has grown “exponentially,” according to its website.

It now has 20 centers around the United States like the one in Hayward. And it operates centers in India, Italy, Malaysia, Philippines and South Africa. Some 350,000 volunteers work at packaging meals each year.

This was the second year that Faith Lutheran participated in the project. Pastor Ben said he’d love to see it become an annual event at the church.

“I think anytime that we as a congregation can come together to serve the needs of God’s people in the world, we are following Christ’s call,” he said.

John Reed