Hunger will stop for 452 children
Imagine if every kindergartener and three-fourths of the first graders at Miller-Driscoll School had nothing to eat. Not today, not tomorrow.
That’s how many children will have something to eat every day for a year thanks to the efforts of 750 people who gathered Oct. 24, at WEPCO, for Wi-ACT’s annual meal packaging marathon. Their efforts produced 165,024 meals for hungry children around the world, representing by far the largest packaging event in the Northeast for the nonprofit Stop Hunger Now. This year’s output is up from 160,000 meals last year.
In addition to all those meals, which were packaged in four, two-hour work shifts, volunteers donated enough non-perishable food to fill three SUVs. Those items will be given to food pantries in Wilton, Norwalk and Bridgeport.
Stop Hunger Now works with groups of volunteers to package and ship meals to people in need.
It has sent millions of meals to 65 countries over the last decade, according to Regional Program Manager Dominic Alexander. This is the fifth year of its partnership with Wi-ACT, a group of 10 Wilton faith institutions.
Volunteerism is only one aspect of the program, the other is expense. Each meal costs 29 cents, up from 25 cents the past four years. Multiply that by 165,000 and the result is nearly $48,000 that must be raised.
About half of that comes from Wi-ACT members, the other half from individual and corporate donors. Wi-ACT is looking at adding a fifth shift of volunteers, which would enable it to package 200,000 meals, but at greater expense.
With rising costs, this year Wi-ACT expanded its fundraising by reaching out to area businesses.
One company that answered the call was Epsilon, a global marketing service provider at 50 Danbury Road, led by Michelle Mora, a vice president and co-leader for Epsilon Community Outreach. She was at the event last week with her two children, Josh, 11 and Lia, 8, and her co-worker Phoebe Myers. About eight other Epsilon employees also participated.
A resident of Trumbull, this was Mora’s first encounter with Wi-ACT and Stop Hunger Now. She said she heard about it from a co-worker and a group of colleagues jumped on board.
“Everybody really likes helping out,” she said. “The food is going to feed starving children around the word. … Everyone is passionate about giving back.”
Epsilon has offices around the country and each has a committee to choose charitable projects. In Wilton, she said, “we try to do one every one to two months.” Employees volunteer in groups or on their own.
Earlier this year the Wilton office had a sandwich-making event. Peanut butter and jelly, and ham and cheese sandwiches were given to a shelter in the Danbury area. The office also has clothing and food drives and a team of employees participated in Wilton’s Relay for Life.
“Quite a few people get involved,” she said. “People have different interests.”
On the 24th, Mora was at a station where assembled meals were being weighed and labeled.
“It’s been great. It’s been fun and rewarding. I like getting my kids involved. I’m very impressed by the organization they have here.
Her co-worker, Myers, lies in Wilton and heard about the event last year after the fact. “I thought, what a great idea,” she said.
Her teenage daughter was also intrigued and recruited a group of friends to help out.
They were not the only multi-generational group of volunteers. A look around the sea of orange hair nets revealed children who appeared to be no older than 4 or 5 and grandparents well into their senior years. More than ever before, Steve Hudspeth, an event organizer said, Wilton adults were bringing their parents from out of town to participate.
The meals that were packaged — enough to fill more than half of a shipping container — will go to where they are most needed.
“Most recently, we’ve been sending meals to Ebola-ravaged countries,” Alexander of Stop Hunger Now said. The Northeast program is one of 20 domestic facilities, augmented by facilities in India, Peru, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Africa, and Italy. Having so many departure points means the food can get to where it’s needed as quickly as possible. Last year the organization shipped 50 million meals.
Each meal serving has 210 calories, but is usually accompanied by beans, meat or vegetables. By themselves, each meal is vegetarian, Halal, and good for two years.
“They taste like a less salty Rice-A-Roni,” Alexander said.
Wi-ACTs meals were bound by truck to Marlborough, Mass., where they would await shipping. Stop Hunger Now provides the meals to other nonprofits and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) for the cost of shipping, which can range from $5,000 to $12,000, Alexander said. In return, the recipients receive $82,000 worth of food.
“Most of the meals go to schools,” he said, where they help boost attendance, beginning a positive domino effect of helping children stay in school and become literate. They also go to orphanages, hospitals, elder care facilities, and disaster relief.
“Twenty-one thousand people die every day from hunger or hunger-related illness, 6,000 of whom are children,” Alexander said.
For information on organizing a packaging event, call Marc Vermouth, New England program manager, at 508-251-9966 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on the organization, visit stophungernow.org.