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Community comes together to help others at United Way’s Day of Caring

October 3, 2018

GERING - Ask anyone who volunteers for the United Way Day of Caring why they are there and you will get a response related to helping others in the community.

More than 200 volunteers spent Tuesday morning packaging 60,000 meals (10,000 packages) of shelf-stable, microwaveable, fortified mac-n-cheese and apple cinnamon oatmeal food products in assembly line fashion.

Steph Black, executive director for United Way of Western Nebraska, was overjoyed at the amount of people who wanted to help others by participating in the event.

“What amazes me is this is a pre-register event and on a first-come, first-served basis,” Black said. “It filled quickly, but then a group of 38 came in this morning and we didn’t want to turn them away.”

Other volunteers quickly set up more tables and got the extra volunteers ready to go. Those extra hands made all the difference as the entire packaging process was completed in less than two hours.

“This is important for us to have volunteers be able to see what an impact a small group can have in a short period of time,” Black said. “Their efforts will last an entire year.”

George Schlothauer, principal of the VALTS program and director of alternative education at ESU #13, brought 31 VALTS students with him in addition to other adults who have volunteered for the last five years. The students volunteer their time as part of their community service requirement for graduation, but many of them enjoyed participating.

“It feels good to do something nice that you know will be helping people,” said Abbigail Coffman, VALTS student.

WestWay Christian Church in Scottsbluff and Gering United Methodist Church worked together at a table filling, packing, sealing and labeling the meals. WestWay was back for their second year participating in the program.

“This is a good way to give back to the community,” said Jim Miller, of Westway Christian Church.

Farm Credit Services of Nebraska was also sharing a table with Western Nebraska Community College’s National Society of Leadership and Success students. Bev Burroughs and student Tommy Rose were both in attendance due to their organization’s emphasis to be involved in the community.

Volunteers from many businesses in town chose to spend their morning doing something that will benefit others in times of need.

“This is something my company does and I wanted to be a part of it,” Mike Salazar, of Black Hills Energy, said.

The meals have a two-year shelf life, but they never last that long. Black said the meals are usually gone by August. Each package feeds six people. Black said having the packages go home in backpacks as part of local programs is also a benefit for more than just the student who receives the backpack.

“With the backpacks, they are sent for the child, but when they have these (packages) we know that’s going to feed a whole family,” Black said. “At the soup kitchens, they use them to help cut down on expenses so they can maybe purchase more of the protein part of a meal.”

The meals are also microwaveable, so anyone who may be in a crisis in a shelter or hotel can have access to a meal.

The meals will be provided to local agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens, school backpack programs (Scottsbluff, Gering, Mitchell, Morrill and Bayard schools), disaster relief programs, Diaper Depot, Firefighters Ministry, Panhandle Love in Action and the Scottsbluff Volunteer Center’s Snow Angel program.

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