GREENVILLE — They were gathered, laughing and talking, but it was not a celebration. They were working, side by side, local folks representing 12 different organizations in the area, to help feed hungry children through a Kids Against Hunger event.
Through sponsorship from Thrivent Financial, and backing by the Greenville Area Ministerial Association (GAMA), volunteers by the dozens showed up at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Saturday to help package over 20,000 food bags that will benefit not only children overseas, but also those here in Montcalm County.
“Thrivent contacted me in September, wondering if this was something we would be interested in doing here,” said Jeff Wilhelm, pastor at Mounty Calvary Lutheran Church and GAMA member. “We opted, instead of a Thanksgiving service and a Christmas dinner, to do this, a community service project rather than a worship service, and we have had great support.”
Volunteers first gathered to help unload the Kids Against Hunger truck and set up the 12 assembly line-fashion stations. Other volunteers filled bins with the products — rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and flavorings and spices — and then the count began.
“The packages contain over 21 essential vitamins and minerals, are prepared in 20 minutes by adding boiling water, and feed six adults or 12 children,” said Chuck Bailey, the Grand Rapids-area coordinator for Kids Against Hunger.
As the volunteers took their stations, one pouring a cupful or spoonful of each item, another holding a food bag under the funnel, and sliding the filled package to another to be weighed, then passed down to be sealed, stacked and boxed, the challenge to fill 20,000 bags began.
“Normally boxes are divided up with one/third going overseas, one/third going to disaster relief organizations, and one/third staying here for local food pantries,” Thrivent’s John Johansen said. “But because of the economic situation in Montcalm County, we have decided to leave two/thirds here for the local food pantries.”
Pantries that will receive the boxes (36 packages per box) are: Barrie’s House in Gowen; Helping Hands Inc. in Howard City; Hope’s Pantry in Stanton; Lakeview Ministerial Association in Lakeview; Montabella Ministerial Association Food Pantry in Edmore; God’s Love Closet; Greenville Church of the Nazarene Food Pantry; Greenville Area Ecumenical Food Mission; Hands of Jesus Food Pantry of Greenville; Helping Hands Food Ministry of Greenville and Greenville Food Kitchen.
Nina Antcliff and daughter Kelsey Antcliff of Greenville Community Church were among the volunteers measuring the dry good.
“We all wanted to help,” said Kelsey, 8, as she scoped the soy powder. “It’s fun.”
Volunteers counted and others then sealed the boxes, while more volunteers stepped up to stack the boxes in the front of the fellowship hall.
Entire families came to help, many with three generations working next to each other, and other tables had volunteers who began as strangers, but left with new friends.
Lee Hansen, of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, worked alongside Addison Howard, 9, of Greenville and Lainey Van Hoose, 6, of Howard City, sealing the filled bags.
“I just met these girls, but, boy, are they good workers,” Hansen said.
“I’m helping her, and we are helping other kids have food to eat,” said Howard, as the two reached and lined up the next bag for Hansen to seal-pack.
Sue and Andrew Caswell of Settlement Lutheran Church in Gowen worked at the same table as Larry and Mary Snow of the First Congregational Church in Greenville while across the aisle were Melissa Kerr of Calvary Baptist and group from Greenville Community Church.
“We heard about it through our church, and talked about how it would be a neat community project to do together,” said Sue Caswell. “We were excited to come out and help.”