Volunteers in Portland pack 200K meals for starving kids

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PORTLAND — Nearly 1,000 people crowded into the Deering High School gymnasium on Sunday, March 29, with an ambitious goal: to pack 200,000 meals in six hours.

The packaging project was the result of a partnership between a local nonprofit group, Million Meals Maine, and the Minnesota-base nonprofit Feed My Starving Children to prepare meals for starving children throughout the world.

Rachel Carlson, a volunteer coordinator for MMM, said volunteers were placing scoops of soy, rice, vitamins and minerals, and vegetables into packets and sending them “to wherever the greatest need is” in 70 countries.

“Each meal costs 22 cents, so you can feed a child for $80 a year,” Carlson said.

This year’s event built on the success of one last year at the Maine Mall, where about 500 volunteers packed over 108,000 meals for children in Haiti. Carlson said the goal was to double the output this year.

On March 30, MMM committee member Charity Hirst said they exceeded their goal and that 1,000 volunteers had packed over 217,000 meals.

“We were very pleased with the results and the great feedback, and we can’t wait to do it again,” Hirst said.

“We have a lot (of volunteers) who came back from last year,” Carlson said. She added the volunteers ranged from church groups and businesses to families and individuals. She said the crews worked in three sessions over the course of the day.

“Each volunteer can pack a box per shift, which feeds a child for seven months,” Carlson said.

Volunteers came from across southern Maine to participate. Some came with organizations or groups, others with their families, and others volunteered on their own.

“I’m excited to help feed hungry children,” said Yarmouth resident Martha Seabury. “Nothing feels better than giving back.”

Josiah Canter from Gray said his entire family came out because they “thought it would be good to give back.”

Members from a self-described “small life group” of the Eastpoint Christian Church in Portland said they came out to help a good cause. Members Katie Baragar, Deidre Braley, Molly Stultz and Tana Krohn said they volunteered to encourage each other and encourage the community.

Carlson said news of the events was spread mostly by word of mouth, through talking to neighbors and several schools. She said they also spread the news through Facebook and the MMM website.

The food was shipped from Minnesota and MMM was responsible for paying for it. Hirst said their organization had to raise roughly $44,000 for the food, and did so by contacting churches, foundations, businesses and others for donations.

“The food came in on an 18-wheeler, they provided the tools and we provide the labor,” Hirst said.

From here, Hirst said the meals will be put on pallets to go to the next country in line, but said it could be “a number of weeks” before the meals leave. She said because the program will feed children in 70 different countries, it’s not known exactly where the meals will end up.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Tana Krohn and Deidre Braley, members of the Eastpoint Christian Church in Portland, pack meals on March 29 in the Deering High School gymnasium. They were just two of the estimated 1,000 volunteers who participated.

One scoop each of soy, rice, minerals and vitamins and vegetables go into each packet. According to members of Million Meals Maine, one of the organizations responsible for putting on the event, each volunteer can pack enough food to feed a starving child for a month.

Volunteers Josiah Canter and Onycha Carlson help pack the meals, which work out to be 22 a cents a day. According to Million Meals Maine, it costs $80 to feed a child for a year.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.