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Children learn seriousness of famine, plight of hungry children

 Kate Birnbaum, 10, holds a bag that is being filled with dehydrated foods and rice.
A UMNs photo by John Gordon.









By John Gordon*
Nov. 21, 2006 | MIDLOTHIAN, Va. (UMNS)

In less than two hours, members of Woodlake United Methodist Church packaged enough meals to feed more than 8,000 hungry children.


Youth from Woodlake United Methodist Church prepare bags of dehydrated
food to be distributed to school
feeding programs and orphanages
in impoverished countries. 
A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

Ten-year-old Megan Herceg was among more than 40 fourth- and fifth-graders who learned about the seriousness of world famine while packaging food for the non-profit organization, Stop Hunger Now. She said she never realized how many people died from hunger.

The session began with a sobering statistic. "There are 30,000 people dying every day of starvation," said the Rev. Lee Warren, Virginia director for the Raleigh, N.C.-based organization. "That's one person every three seconds."

Church member Brandy Clark, 10, said the plight of hungry children was a sharp contrast to the holiday season she will enjoy with her family. "I think it's sad because my family always enjoys having Thanksgiving," she said, "and it's really hard for me to think of kids going without Thanksgiving."

Older church members assisted the children as they measured, bagged and weighed a mix of rice, soy protein, dehydrated vegetables and artificial chicken flavoring.  Add water, and the ingredients become a vitamin-fortified, nutritious meal costing only 20 cents per serving.


This "makes me feel like I'm really
doing something worthwhile and
makes me feel very good. I get
personal satisfaction from it," Woodlake church member Edna Webster says. 
A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

Participating groups contribute funds to cover the costs of the meals, which are being stockpiled as part of Stop Hunger Now's Operation Sharehouse.  The organization's goal is to build a warehouse on every major continent. It supplies food to orphanages and schools in dozens of developing countries, from Haiti to Sudan.

"We just take for granted how easy it is to just go to the store and buy a turkey and put it in the oven, have all the fixings," said church member Terri Russell. "And they just don't have that."

This "makes me feel like I'm really doing something worthwhile and makes me feel very good. I get personal satisfaction from it," added Edna Webster, 77.

Warren, a United Methodist pastor, said experts believe hunger could be cut in half in the next 10 to 15 years.  She said schools that offer meals also see an increase in attendance.

"The U.N. set up model programs of the free-lunch program in approximately 30 countries, (that serve) maybe 80 million children," she added.  "They found that (school) enrollment doubled immediately. You cannot learn on an empty stomach."


The Rev. Lee Warren tells the youth that 30,000 people die each day of hunger related causes. A UMNs photo by John Gordon.

Bringing the packaging program on-site to churches, schools and other organizations helps the volunteers get directly involved in working toward a solution to the hunger problem.

"People have shared how before they've written a check and they don't feel as emotionally connected to the problem," said Warren. "This way, they see the actual meals. And they feel that they are making a greater difference."

The Rev. Ellen Heatwole, associate pastor at Woodlake and leader of the WOW youth group, agrees that involvement is important.

"We've become very 'instant gratification,'" she said. "Just stroke a check, or I'll just give it away. But anything that you do hands-on is the part that will transform you."

Stop Hunger Now's largest packaging event took place in August at North Carolina State University in Raleigh when 650 volunteers packaged more than 150,000 meals.

Stop Hunger Now was founded in 1998 by Texas native Ray Buchanan, an ordained United Methodist minister. Before that, Buchanan worked 18 years as the founder and co-director of the Society of St. Andrew, a food-relief organization based in Virginia.

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or

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