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Mississippi volunteers pack 102,000 meals for hungry



Michelle Badeaux (from left), Clarissa Mitchell and Heather Sanchez fill food bags
for Project Sharehouse at the University of Southern Mississippi.
UMNS photos by Woody Woodrick.












By Woody Woodrick*
April 9, 2007 | JACKSON, Miss. (UMNS)

Volunteers from across Mississippi packaged 102,000 meals to feed starving people in Africa through a project that brought together faith groups, civic organizations, students and other mission-minded people.

More than 400 volunteers gathered March 29-31 at three United Methodist locations and the University of Southern Mississippi to participate in Project Sharehouse and accomplish one important goal.



Volunteers form an assembly line to fill food bags destined for Africa. 

"They saved lives," said Mike Ward, who serves on the board of directors of Stop Hunger Now, which administers Project Sharehouse. "It was remarkable. The turnout in every instance was better than we expected."

Stop Hunger Now tries to work with small, hunger-fighting organizations in nations where a short-term need exists. Food is shipped to those groups - such as schools and orphanages - which then distribute it.

The Project Sharehouse drive included packaging operations at Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church in Jackson, Wesley United Methodist Church in Meridian and the Starkville District Office of the Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference.

Volunteers prepared 17,000 packages - each enough for six meals - filled with a mixture of soy protein, a vitamin-fortified flavoring powder, dehydrated vegetables and rice. Volunteers got to taste some of the prepared food and, while most agreed it won't soon make the menu of a gourmet restaurant, the food was tasty, they said.

The packages were sent to a warehouse in Raleigh, N.C., for shipment to Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Tanzania.

Ward was especially glad Zimbabwe is among the destinations because the Zimbabwe annual conferences have a covenant relationship with the Mississippi Conference.

"One of the (highlights) was the diversity of people who came out," said Ward. "We had students, faculty, children and seniors on walkers. We had persons of multiple faiths, denominations and ethnicities."

The largest turnout was at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg where Ward is on faculty. He estimated 250 volunteers worked two-hour shifts.



Dee Abbott, of Court Street United Methodist Church in Hattiesburg, Miss., weighs a food package. 

One shift included two children standing on chairs to reach the packing tables and seniors sitting in chairs while they worked. There were six members of Girl Scout Troop 121, affiliated with Oak Grove United Methodist Church, which donated $50 from its cookie sales fund, and the entire faculty of Forrest County Agricultural High School who offered their assistance on an in-service day.

USM student Tabitha Williams, 21, of Biloxi, volunteered for the outreach "to help somebody 1,000 miles away get their basic needs," she said.

Heather Sanchez of Laurel, Miss., said the project was "right up her alley" since she's interested in developing sustainable agricultural systems in emerging countries.

"I think you learn about yourself when you get involved in service activities," said Sanchez, a USM graduate student in anthropology. "I learned there are other people with those goals; you're not alone. It gives you a little bit of hope when you see this kind of turnout."

In addition to taking part in the packing effort, volunteers were asked to help raise $25,000 by contributing 25 cents per meal to help cover the cost of ingredients.

The food packages won't be in storage long. Organizers expected them to be shipped by late April or early May.

"There is more demand than we're able to meet," said Rod Brooks, CEO of Stop Hunger Now.

*Woodrick is editor of the Mississippi United Methodist Advocate, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church's Mississippi Annual Conference.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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