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Filling bags to make full bellies also creates sense of empowerment

Filling bags to make full bellies also creates sense of empowerment

First shift of volunteers Stop Hunger Now packaging
Hundreds of United Methodist volunteers help pack meals to ship to those in need through Stop Hunger Now. Photo by Armando Rodriguez Jr. For more photos from A Million Reasons and Annual Conference, click here.

NEWS UPDATE: More than 1,500 people volunteered during two days of meal-packaging at Annual Conference 2013, reported Janet Kelley, the effort's co-coordinator with Pam Carter, wife of Bishop Ken Carter.

Pam Carter announced Friday, June 14, to the full Annual Conference audience that workers packed 101,306 meals, a healthy start to the Florida Conference goal of packaging a million meals in a year's time. 

LAKELAND -- Who would have thought that bagging a two-bit meal of grains and flakes could be so empowering?

Hundreds of United Methodists measured, poured, bagged and sealed vitamin-fortified meals in plastic bags Wednesday in a Stop Hunger Now effort intended to empower starving people in places like Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

But those who scooped 25 cents' worth of soy protein, vegetable flakes and rice into bags to nourish others found out just how inspiring and faith-boosting such an effort could be.

"I've never done this before," said Rev. Tim Smiley, district superintendent of the North East District.

"It's really wonderful to do it as a team. You can make a tremendous difference in people's lives in a very short time."

In the shift Smiley worked, the tally was more than 13,000 meals packaged in less than an hour.

That shift kicked off an afternoon of meal packaging for the nonprofit Stop Hunger Now, which provides low-cost, filling and nutritious meals for impoverished people in 65 countries. Every hour, the vicinity around The Lakeland Center's Sikes Hall was marked by cheers and applause as thousands more meals went to the loading dock for distribution to those in need. 

Reagan Chester, 9, packs Stop Hunger Now meals
Reagan Chester, 9, of Tallahassee is among hundreds of United Methodists of all ages who kick off Annual Conference 2013 by helping to package nutritious meals for people in need. Photo by Armando Rodriguez Jr.

The meal-packaging event also kick-started the Annual Conference 2013 experience for Florida's United Methodists, who gathered for workshops and preconference meetings at The Lakeland Center.

The Annual Conference opens today with clergy and laity sessions at 10 a.m., followed by the keynote address by Rev. Jim Harnish of Hyde Park UMC, Tampa, at 1:30 p.m. For the conference agenda, click here.

Wednesday, early attendees flocked to the signup table for a chance to package meals as part of the Florida Conference "A Million Reasons" campaign to bag and ship a million meals this year.

Christine Galenski, Stop Hunger Now's community development director in Orlando, said the conference is about a quarter of the way toward its goal, thanks to packaging events sponsored at local United Methodist churches.

At The Lakeland Center, people in suits and T-shirts worked side by side, assembly-line style. Youth from First UMC, Lakeland, arrived early Wednesday to unload the food and packaging supplies from the Stop Hunger Now truck and also made a training video for each group of volunteers to watch before donning hairnets and heading toward the assembly tables.

Pam Carter, wife of Florida Bishop Ken Carter, welcomed each group and told the story of a young Haitian girl she met whose struggles to keep her belly full interfered with her education.

"We're all here to make a difference for people like Michelle," Carter said.  

Evan Coppola, 7, works with Joe Moxley
Evan Coppolo, 7, shown working with Joe Moxley, right, is among children and youth who help package meals at Annual Conference. Photo by Susan Green.

Galenski told the story of a young man with autism she met in Nicaragua who had been found on the street starving at age 8.

"Every six seconds, a child dies from hunger," she said.

But Stop Hunger Now is not just about feeding people, Galenski added. The program also helps people succeed in education and job training by removing their worries  about food.

"It's not about entitlement in simply feeding them," Galenski said. "It's really about the bigger picture."

Reagan Chester, 9, from Deer Lake UMC, Tallahassee, finished her stint happy to have helped.

"I feel very good about it because every meal we pack saves lives," she said.

Winnie Dean, a longtime Florida Conference staff member in Clergy Excellence, said it was the first time she had participated in anything like the Stop Hunger Now experience.

"[It was a] wonderful, team-building, life-saving experience," she said.

Opportunities to package Stop Hunger Now meals continue this morning. A signup table will be set up outside the Lake Morton Room and Sikes Hall-F at The Lakeland Center.



-- Susan Green is the editor of the Florida Conference Connection.