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Meals packing brings Holy Spirit together to feed the hungry

meals packing

Holy Spirit parishioners and other volunteers practice their duties at the weighing table during the Winfield parish's meal packing event in cooperation with Catholic Relief Serviuces and in partnership with Rise Against Hunger. Each plastic bag containing enriched rice, soy protein, dried vegetables and a packet of 23 essential vitamins and nutrients was weighed, adjusted and sealed for shipment to Burkina Faso, West Africa, where cyclical drought and flooding have made it difficult for residents to grow their own food. (Marlene A. Zloza photo)



Northwest Indiana Catholic


      WINFIELD – Let’s admit it, no one looks good in a hairnet. But when you join a group of more than 100 enthusiastic volunteers all wearing them, it becomes just another symbol of the camaraderie you are sharing by being part of something bigger than yourself.

      And so it was on May 18 as I joined fellow parishioners and guests at Holy Spirit to pack 10,152 dry meals of enriched rice, soy protein, dried vegetables and “23 essential vitamins and nutrients” for the people of Burkina Faso, West Africa, where cyclical droughts and flooding have made it difficult to grow enough food for families to eat every day.

      Teaming up with Rise Against Hunger, an agency founded in 1998 as Stop Hunger Now, whose mission is “to end hunger in our lifetime,” in partnership with Catholic Relief Services, my parish first undertook raising the funds for the food and shipping costs - $5,076. Proceeds from this year’s annual CRS Lenten Rise Bowl collection were earmarked for the project, and others donated to put the fund over the top.

      According to Rochelle McNamara, faith formation director at Holy Spirit, 83 volunteers signed up in advance, and more than 20 walk-ins arrived that morning. “We’ll find a place for all of them,” said Jennifer Anderson, community engagement coordinator for RISE, unruffled by scores of people gathered around her wearing plastic gloves, hairnets and – in some cases – beard nets.

      “Because of our synod goals, we were looking at discipleship and decided to host a family-oriented service project, with Joe McBride as our goal champion,” explained Father Tom Mischler, pastor. “A group of our young people had participated in a meal packing event at the NCYC (National Catholic Youth Conference), and so we thought that would be a great first foray into a parish service project.

      “We are hoping this will help us explore the idea of what service can be and how to have a major impact on people around the globe, awakening people to the greater need and increasing awareness,” Father Mischler added. “We also want to show that discipleship can be fun.”

      McBride looked around the hall in amazement. “We started this last August, and I can’t believe the day has finally arrived,” he said. “One of my missions is to find a way to bring all groups together, and what could be better to bring families together – grandparents to small children – than a mission project like this.”

      As packing got underway, pop music played and volunteers (including me, who had to abandon my notebook to prevent contamination) took their stations around tables filled with bins of different food and the all-important funnel. The leader opened wide a plastic bag, another volunteer dropped in a small packet containing the vitamins and the bagger placed it under the funnel, where I began the filling process by pouring an exact cup of soy protein into the bag. Next came a small dipper of dried vegetables, followed by a cup of enriched rice.

      The bag was then placed into a small bin so a runner could carry 5-6 bags at a time to the weighing table, where each bag was weighed and a spoonful of rice (“Rice always needs to be on top!”) added or subtracted as needed to assure the proper weight. Heat sealers were used to hermetically close each bag, then packers placed them in shipping boxes for their destination. Meanwhile, more volunteers were on the lookout for empty table bins that they filled from large sacks of each ingredient.

      The work went quickly (too quickly for those of us having fun and making new friends) as Jennifer announced each 1,000 meals packed on a projection screen that also showed us a video of the work RISE is doing in 74 countries, making us feel a small part of a gigantic effort to feed people and save lives. Too soon, it was over and everything was efficiently packed up and swept away.

      “Some people did say, ‘10,000 meals won’t make a dent in global hunger,’” McBride noted. “But I remember what St. Mother Teresa said when she was asked how she could save all the destitute people in India – ‘One at a time.’”

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