Clubs, churches unite to feed 40,000

Published 10:12 pm Saturday, February 28, 2009

Voices filled the gymnasium, along with the sounds of packing tape screeching across cardboard boxes and children running from table to table.

Just when the noisiness built to an astounding volume, a gong rang out and halted everything for a millisecond.

Then came a few cheers and some mild clapping before the resident noise returned again.

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The gong signified that the more than 100 volunteers working in the family center of Ebenezer United Methodist Church had finished making another 1,000 meals for Stop Hunger Now.

Stop Hunger Now is a non-governmental relief organization that helps coordinate food and medical aid projects across the globe.

For three hours Saturday afternoon, more than 300 volunteers from six local organizations – including the Churchland, Smithfield and North Suffolk Rotary clubs – made about 40,000 meal bags to be sent overseas. Each volunteer helped fill and seal a bag containing rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring mix. By just adding water and boiling the contents, one bag can feed six people.

These bags are shipped throughout the world, specifically to schools in high-poverty countries.

“What you’re doing today is really packing meals for kids,” Clark Mandigo, the Hampton Roads Operation Sharehouse Strategic Development Specialist, told the first wave of volunteers. “By packing these meals, you’re helping schools grow.”

Mandigo also shared that today there are more than 963 million people in the world suffering from hunger, and in one day more than 25,000 people will die from either hunger or hunger related complications.

Most of these 25,000 victims are children, he added.

It’s a presentation of facts that Nancy Quell found hard to ignore last fall.

Quell, a member of the Churchland Rotary club and Ebenezer church, heard of the Stop Hunger Now organization while attending a breakfast event for women in the church at Ebenezer.

Quell took some information thinking she could set up a volunteer activity for her church. But by the following week, those plans changed.

Just one week after she heard about Stop Hunger Now, Quell Bryant was attending the Rotary District Conference for clubs in District 7600. At the conference, Mandigo was making a presentation about the work of Stop Hunger Now and how Rotarians could get involved.

Quell jumped at the opportunity.

“I thought what a wonderful way to bring two organizations together – certainly the two closest organizations to my heart, my church and my Rotary club,” she said. “It became my mission.”

Quell began working alongside Mandigo to orchestrate a massive volunteer effort between local churches (members from Ebenezer, Churchland Baptist Church, Port Norfolk Baptist Church and Westhaven Baptist Church all volunteered on Saturday), three local Rotary clubs and the sharehouse to help make more than 40,000 meals.

On top of volunteers, fundraising was also needed.

The meals cost 25 cents a piece to make, which meant the organizations needed to raise $10,000 to hold the event. Donations from the clubs and churches as well as from members in the community made the event possible, Quell said.

“I think I’m just amazed that it has gone as smooth as it has,” she said. “It’s been wonderful. It’s really come together.”

North Suffolk Rotary Club President Tom Conway brought his wife and sons along to the event, and said it was a perfect example of what teamwork look likes.

“We had a great conversation in the car on the way back,” Conway said. “My son said he kept doing the same job while we were working and I pointed out that without him doing that one job, these bags would not have gotten made. Everyone had a job they had to do, and the discussion went into what teamwork really does.”

Conway said he was also impressed with the amount of work that was able to get done in such a short time.

“It was fantastic,” Conway said. “You saw a whole lot of different people from the community there, and there’s a whole bunch of people pulling their different resources toward a common goal. It was a lot of fun too. I couldn’t believe how fast the time went.”

For more information about the Stop Hunger Now program, visit