By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY —Tanner Finnegan, a freshman at Avila University, is like all Avila freshmen, required to attend certain events and work on certain projects. The Stop Hunger Now project Sept. 29 was one of those events and projects, so Tanner joined some of his friends in line to enter the Avila Pavilion. When handed a hair net as he walked through the door, he was suddenly full of questions: “Why a hair net? What am I doing?” He soon learned.
Approximately 250 hair-netted freshmen grouped themselves around long tables outfitted with plastic bags, rice, dehydrated vegetables, soy, flavorings, vitamins and minerals. A funnel held pride of place in the center of each table. There were instructions for filling each bag to serve a family of six.
Other tables held heat sealing machines while scales and boxes decorated still others.
Baylee DeLaurier, program manager for Stop Hunger Now in Overland Park, Kan., introduced herself and the project. Stop Hunger Now was founded by clergyman Ray Buchanan in 1998. Since then, the agency has coordinated the distribution of food and other lifesaving aid to children and families in 65 countries all over the world.
According to recent statistics published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 805 million people in the world don’t have enough to eat, which translates into one in every nine people nightly going to bed hungry. About 791 million of them live in developing countries in Asia and Sub-Sahara Africa. The number of hungry people around the world has declined in the past decade, but hunger still kills more people annually than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. According to The Lancet medical journal, poor nutrition causes the deaths of 3.1 million children under five each year. UNICEF weighs in with stats on underweight and stunted children, a direct result of malnutrition.
Stop Hunger Now works to change those statistics. As part of two weeks of activities for the university’s Harry S. Truman Distinguished Lecture Series, Avila freshmen, joined by staff members of the Bank of Blue Valley, were to package rice meals for hungry people in the world. Stop Hunger Now created its meal packaging program, in 2005, perfecting the assembly process that combines rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring mix including 21 essential vitamins and minerals into small meal packets. The food stores easily, has a shelf-life of two years and transports quickly. The agency works with international partners that ship and distribute the meals to those in need.
The use of volunteers for meal packaging has been found to be very cost-effective and at the same time increases awareness of global hunger and food insecurity issues.
Meal packaging participants are asked to donate 29 cents per meal they package. These funds are used to acquire the ingredients as well as pay staffing and support costs to make the event possible. Supplies are purchased on the general commodities markets, and the agency gets reduced rates on most ingredients. The Bank of Blue Valley had been asked by Avila last year to partner with them in the fight against hunger. Bank president Bob Regnier sat on a discussion panel as part of last year’s Harry S. Truman Distinguished Lecture Series, The International Bank of Bob, a book about micro-financing in developing countries. When asked again this year, the bank agreed with alacrity, sponsoring the meal packaging event.
The challenged was to package 20,000 meals, weigh each package to see if it weighed 3.89 – 3.94 ounces, seal it and send it to be boxed — 36 packages to a box, in one hour.
Music played as students and bank staffers started packing meals amid chatter and laughter. Runners jogged all over the room, picking up clear plastic boxes of packaged meals to be weighed, sealed and boxed. Calls for runners came so fast it sounded something like: “Runnrunnrunner!” A gong sounded each time 100 meals were boxed.
The hour flew by. The meal packs — one vitamin packet, one scoop of dehydrated soy, one scoop of dehydrated vegetables, and one scoop of rice in each bag — quickly morphed into thousands as the students and bank employees worked. At the end of the hour, 22,464 meals had been packaged, weighed, sealed and boxed.
A few days earlier, Avila alumni and staff members joined forces to pack 4,104 rice meals for Stop Hunger Now.
The majority of the meals are used to support school feeding programs. There are certain requirements that partner organizations must fulfill, including agreeing not to sell or barter the meal packages, which keeps them out of the general food market. Stop Hunger Now has completed more than 350 meal shipments to 85 partners in 40 countries.
Tanner served as a sealer. As he sealed around 75 – 80 meal bags, he found himself impressed by a little bag feeding six hungry people, and costing only .29. That realization gave purpose to the hair net and the work. “I want to do this now,” he said, “rather than I have to do this.”
A question heard during the student packing event was “what does this taste like?” Students would soon find out.
The Hunger Challenge took place Oct. 6. During the weekend before, students were asked to make a list of everything they ate. Then on Monday, they were to eat only one Stop Hunger Now rice meal, just like the ones they packaged the week before, in a 24-hour period. The challenge was to solidarity with the hungry in other countries whose only daily meal is the rice meal. It would also show support and recognition for the Lost Boys of Sudan.
The Lost Boys is the name given to the more than 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups aged 7 to 17 who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005). About 2.5 million ethnic Sudanese were killed and millions were displaced. Some of the Lost Boys found new lives in America. With the renewal of warfare in southern Sudan, there is a new generation of Lost Boys.
Avila freshmen were assigned the book, They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky, to read during the summer. The book, by brothers Benson and Alephonsion (Alepho) Deng and their cousin Benjamin Ajak, and co-authored by Judy A. Bernstein, recounts the attacks on villages by government-armed Murahiliin and the children fleeing into the night. Alepho Deng was the speaker at the Truman Lecture Series this year. He now lives in San Diego, as does his brother and cousin. A number of Lost Boys and Lost Girls now live in the Kansas City area. There have been several books and movies about the Lost Boys and the wars in Sudan.
Sue Ellen McCalley, Avila professor of Education and Psychology, serves as Chair of the Truman Lecture Series. She saw the meal packaging event, the Hunger Challenge and Alepho Deng’s lecture as “a concrete way to get students thinking. America is the land of plenty and most of us don’t even realize it.”