GREENVILLE — This year, instead of feeding themselves during the Thanksgiving season, dozens of volunteers from several area congregations will do their part to help feed others.
Led by Jeff Wilhelm, pastor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church and the Greenville Ministerial Association, volunteers will meet from noon to 3 p.m. on Nov. 23 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on M-91 just south of Greenville to put together packages of food for distribution locally and to needy third world countries.
The effort is being organized as part of the national Kids Against Hunger program, headquartered in Minnesota. Through local fundraising efforts, the Ministerial Association will be purchasing a quantity of nutritionally-rich grains prior to the day of the event. Those grains, developed by major food manufacturers, are then packaged into separate bags by volunteers. Each bag contains enough food to feed six adults or 12 children.
According to Wilhelm, the only missing ingredient is boiling water. Cost per serving comes out to only 25 cents.
The food packets can stay fresh, without preservatives, for several years, making them an excellent option for providing disaster relief during emergencies.
“This will take the place of our Ecumenical Community Thanksgiving service,” Wilhelm explained. “Attendance for the past few years has been waning and we though this would be a great hands-on activity. Instead of just talking about hunger, or preaching about it, this Kids Against Hunger event actually provides food to those who most need it.”
Wilhelm first heard of the Kids Against Hunger program when he was contacted by the local Thrivent chapter, a fraternal organization that provides financial planning services to Lutherans. Thrivent got the effort off to a quick start with a $500 cash donation. Organizers hope to raise about $5,600 to purchase the food prior to the packaging event.
If the fundraising efforts exceed expectations — Wilhelm thinks they might — volunteers could be packaging enough food to feed up to 30,000 individuals, though 20,000 is the group’s stated goal. Another option would be to save excess funds for future, similar events.
“People who like doing this sort of thing look forward to doing it again,” Wilhelm said. “Especially those who may have missed out the first time.”
About 1/3 of the packages will be donated to local food pantries; another third will be send to third world countries in need of assistance; the final third will be stored by the Kids Against Hunger program for distribution during relief efforts following natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes.
Jerry Jones, pastor of First Congregational Church, which also is taking part in the event, said as many as 10 churches are likely to help out. Earlier this year, several area pastors attended an event at which the Kids Against Hunger program made a presentation explaining the organization’s goals.
“This really caught the interest of all the pastors,” Jones said. “They really got excited about it.”
Each participating congregation is currently in the fundraising stages of the program and once the money is in hand it will be sent to Kids Against Hunger. That organization, partnering with major food manufacturers, will in turn send the food and packaging equipment to the Ministerial Association.
Wilhelm said he plans to have eight long “assembly line” tables set up on the day of the event and around 100 volunteers taking part in the packaging.
“This is a great, hands-on event,” Wilhelm said. “It’s a great way to build unity and camaraderie around the community. It’s good to have a mission and purpose that’s bigger than ourselves.”