A view from Glen Hill: Stop hunger, now and again

The annual Stop Hunger Now daylong meal-packaging event of the Wilton Interfaith Action Committee (Wi-ACT) is coming up on Saturday, Oct. 26. This year’s goal is packaging 110,000 meals (enough to feed 300 otherwise starving children for an entire year), up from 101,000 meals last year and 76,500 meals the year before.

Wi-ACT is composed of 10 Wilton faith institutions — Christian, Jewish, and Muslim — and brings their congregants together to work for good. Volunteers for the event register online for one of four work shifts: 9-11 a.m., 11 a.m. -1 p.m., 1-3 p.m., and 3-5 p.m. Last year, 450 volunteers took part. This year, 500 volunteers are needed.

This higher number of volunteers will be achieved in two ways: by using volunteers from other towns exploring doing events like this in their own communities, and by inviting members of the Wilton community at large — who are not members of any of Wi-ACT’s 10 faith institutions but who would like to volunteer — to sign up for a shift. If you fall in the latter category, you may register for one of the last two shifts (1-3 or 3-5 p.m.), where the extra help is most needed. Registration from the general public is capped and is on a first-come, first-served basis, at this website: http://vols.pt/9GMLCM.

Meal packaging is accomplished by pouring a half-dozen highly nutritious bulk ingredients into a sealable plastic pouch with a vitamin pouch added as the last “ingredient.” Each pouch is then hermetically sealed and boxed, and the boxes are loaded onto pallets placed on a truck. The pouches go where the need is greatest at the time the packaging is done. In the past two years, Wi-ACT’s meals have gone to Haiti and to sub-Saharan Africa. The meals are served in school settings where the children served are nourished in mind as well as body. Meal-packaging and shipment is all under the direction of the highly regarded 501(c)(3) nonprofit Stop Hunger Now Inc.

So what’s it like volunteering for a shift? Typically, there will be about 125 volunteers on each shift, working in the parish hall of the WEPCO Church Complex at 36 New Canaan Road. The hall was selected because it has the right amount of open space and also ground-level ease of access for bulk materials coming in and completed pallets going out. The hall is set up with multiple workstations for ingredient-mixing, pouch-sealing, boxing, and palletizing.

At each ingredient-mixing station, volunteers pour in the right amounts of the bulk ingredients, add the vitamin pouch, and then pass a tray containing several completed pouches to a child “runner” (some as young as 7) who takes them over to a work station where volunteers carefully weigh each pouch and then seal it, after which they pass it on to the boxers. All of this work is done to lively music, and in fact there is a very energetic buzz throughout the hall, punctuated by the sound of a large gong announcing the completion of each 1,000 meals. Two hours pass in a flash!

It is particularly touching to see children, teens, their parents, and senior citizens from all of these different faith traditions working side by side, setting a great example for kids and appreciating the very real difference they are making in the lives of children growing up in circumstances where just getting minimally fed is a daunting daily challenge.

Some cynical latter-day Malthusian might say, “You’re only offering a drop of respite for a bottomless bucket of need.” But that sad perspective is completely wrong for multiple reasons. First, it is widely understood now that starvation is not a problem of lack of adequate food production worldwide but rather of lack of properly organized distribution of the food that exists, and that picture is changing for the good. World Bank data shows that the number of those in the deepest poverty (living on less than $1.25 per day) has been reduced by more than 50% in the past 30 years, and the goal is to drive that number to zero in another 20 years. This data also shows that birth rates fall significantly (to only 2.2 births per woman now in Bangladesh, for example) when death of one’s children from starvation is no longer part of daily existence.

Even more fundamentally, Wi-ACT subscribes to the Jewish tradition’s concept of “tikkun olam”: repair of the world through helping one person at a time. And we can all be part of doing exactly that on Oct. 26.

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.