MT. COMFORT — With a spoon, Amelia Melby added more grains of rice to the plastic bag. Then she eyed the number on the scale to be sure the bag was at the right weight.
With the sealing of the bag, six more meals were ready to send to Ukraine.
She was among the youngest of the hundreds of volunteers who gathered Oct. 1 at Mt. Comfort Church to help package 80,220 meals to be shipped overseas through Pack Away Hunger. Having recently moved to the area, she and her family had come with friends who are part of Mt. Comfort Church.
This is the third time a group of local churches has collaborated on a meal packing event. A 2019 meal pack took place at Mt. Comfort Church, and meals were sent to Haiti. The 2020 event was canceled. In 2021 meal packers worked in the gymnasium of New Palestine United Methodist Church, sending 50,000 meals to Guatemala and Haiti.
The Rev. Anthony Stone, pastor of the New Palestine church, has packed meals at such events before. In 2016 he was also in Guatemala to help unload a shipment and see people eat the food.
He said “definitely, there’s a general conversation and excitement” at church about participating in these events, and this year’s meals going to Ukraine adds particular interest to the work: “I think it does (resonate) … I think that has an impact.”
Several area churches — Amity United Methodist Church, Gateway Community Church of Fortville, Mt. Comfort Church, New Palestine United Methodist Church and Shirley-Wilkinson Community United Methodist Church — provided funds and/or volunteers for the Oct. 1 event.
It cost $12,650, the cost of packaging 40,220 meals, to do the event. (That’s about 31 cents a meal.) A grant from ADM Cares, a foundation established by nutrition company ADM, covered 40,000 more meals.
Members and friends of the participating churches staffed two shifts, one from 9-11 a.m. and one from noon to 2 p.m. Also offering their time were student-athletes from the Eastern Hancock High School football team.
“People need help,” Eastern Hancock senior Cody Masters said, as he pressed packing tape onto a cardboard box filled with meal packets. “… God calls us to do the little things to help people.”
“It’s for a great cause, helping people out that are in need,” said Eastern Hancock junior Gavin Scroggins, in between scoopfuls of soy he dropped into the meal packets. “You’ve got to do what’s best for everybody.”
A couple of tables over, Marissa Baugh and her friend Olivia Hartnett were packing meals along with Marissa’s grandparents. Both eighth-graders at Mt. Vernon Middle School, they had seen the meal-packing event as a worthwhile way to log community service hours for their membership in the school’s chapter of National Junior Honor Society.
“It’s something where you can help others, and it would affect people in a good way,” Olivia said.
Volunteers were grouped around tables in the church’s gymnasium, with each of the 12 groups staffed by 8-10 people.
In assembly line fashion, they added their ingredients to the bag. Soy. Rice. Veggies. A micronutrient pack.
Someone weighed the bag, adding rice as needed to reach the target weight. Then the bag was pressed and sealed.
The contents of the bag make six meals. Thirty-six bags are packed into each cardboard box, meaning each box contains 216 meals.
The boxes were loaded onto a truck and driven to Pack Away Hunger’s headquarters in Beech Grove before being shipped out through Convoy of Hope. The faith-based organization can partner with Pack Away Hunger and other organizations to fill cargo containers and ship food overseas.
“They’ve been really helpful,” said Abigail Harlan. executive director of Pack Away Hunger. “We have contacts in Ukraine … Convoy of Hope is able to get meals to our contacts and into Ukraine.”
The Oct. 1 event resulted in 80,220 meals packaged for the people of Ukraine. Volunteers filled a truck, which carried meals to Beech Grove and then was driven back empty to hold more meals at the end of the afternoon shift.
“The great thing about this event is, it’s 5 to 95,” said Mt. Comfort Church pastor Ethan Maple. “You can sit down for the pack if you need to do it … (and there are) stools for the kids that need it. Anybody can participate in something like this.
“And it’s from every corner of our county in this particular pack. So it’s a really great event for the community.”
JOINING A MEAL PACK
You can initiate a meal packing event by visiting www.packawayhunger.org. It involves recruiting volunteers to pack the meals and raising funds to cover the cost of packing thousands of meals at the event (about 31 cents per meal).
“We come in and we take care of everything,” said Abigail Harlan. executive director of Pack Away Hunger. “We do all the setup, we help people fundraise, we run the event and also handle the distribution.” The website also suggests other ways to get involved.
Or you can join a different organization’s meal pack Nov. 11-12 at Park Chapel Christian Church, 1176 E. McKenzie Road, Greenfield. The church will partner with Lifeline Christian Mission to pack 142,000 meals for Haiti. Sign up for a shift or donate at https://parkchapel.org/outreach (scroll down to “Meal Packing for Haiti”).