AP NEWS

‘Village’ of helpers in Waupun to reduce world hunger

February 18, 2019

WAUPUN — They may not be the proverbial village that it takes to raise a child, but the volunteers that package Mercy Meals are certainly saving lives — both young and old — in the education wing of Pella Lutheran Church, 315 S. Madison St.

The results of their labors are passed along to starving children in the United States and abroad. The giver and recipient will probably never meet each other, but a bond of love is being created. That love spans thousands of miles and cultures often opposite from each other in terms of standard of living and ways of life.

Volunteers at the church originally gathered clothes for two years, preparing and boxing them for shipment abroad. More recently, they have begun packing “Mercy Meals,” along with their ongoing clothing collection.

Meal packing involves measuring out the ingredients for tens of thousands of balanced meals. A donation from a local foundation provided the raw materials.

Those meals will soon be shipped to feed the starving children of Haiti and Liberia. For many, the donation will make the difference between living and dying.

Funding is provided by a local foundation, by Pella Lutheran Church and by individuals eager to address the problems of world hunger and starvation.

Mercy Meals ingredients are purchased from “Kids for Hunger,” a charity that obtains food in bulk to share with charitable organizations. The materials are obtained at cost.

With careful planning, costs are kept amazingly low.

“By getting it in this bulk, we’re able to keep our cost to around 12 cents per meal,” said organizer and youth minister Karla Ceman. “Only a tiny portion of the cost goes to Orphan Grain Train (which collects and delivers them) to cover their expenses.”

The product looks like a rice mix.

“Nutrition is the key,” Ceman said. “It may not appeal to us, but it is what their bodies can absorb.”

Each bag, assembled and packaged by volunteers at the church, can feed about six people.

“A lot of people will stretch that bag to eight to 10 people, and that might be their only meal for the day,” Ceman said. “It could be their only meal for days — and that’s not unusual.”

Since the church has no loading dock, the raw materials were dropped off at Waupun Auto Supply, 1212 Moorman Drive. The company later moved the items to the church, and volunteers formed a chain to move the bags and boxes into the education wing.

“We have enough materials to assemble 90,000 meals,” Ceman said. “We hope to assemble 30,000 meals when we meet on Feb. 23, but I think it will be closer to 50,000, based on the number of volunteers we’ve got.”

The materials include 50-pound bags of rice and soy protein, along with dehydrated vegetables, vitamins and flavoring.

“Because we are dealing with an international cause, and dealing with people who are literally starving, they can’t digest the food that we can,” Ceman said. “This is a very nutritious mix that the organizers have been using for years. If they are weighed and the bags come up short we can only add rice, because if they get too much protein they’ll get very sick. We have to be very precise.”

The meals are supplied to Orphan Grain Train — Wisconsin Branch, which collects the boxed meals and transports them to wherever they are needed.

Volunteers will assemble the Mercy Meal kits on Saturday from 9 a.m. to about 4 p.m.

Eager to maximize every effort, Ceman even asks volunteers to give a donation.

“One dollar can feed eight people,” she said. “You tell me where else you can do that, and it’s a nutritious life-sustaining meal. It’s not ramen noodles.”

The charity welcomes all volunteers, no matter what their faith.

“We’re reaching out to the community,” Ceman said. “Anybody who would like to come in and help us pack should contact me, and I’ll schedule them to make full use of the equipment we have. We will plan it out so people don’t have to stay the entire day, although the people who organize it — setting up training and overseeing the process — will probably be here longer.”

“We’ve got staff from a Ripon dentist’s office coming over to help. We have members from a church in Montello. We have Kiwanis in Waupun and Markesan. If people want to come help, they’re more than welcome. We won’t turn them away.”

Local businesses are getting involved as well, with Subway providing sandwiches and chips and Kwik Trip donating a gift card to purchase beverages and other lunch items.

Parish ladies are donating three pans of bar cookies. Others have donated cash.

The items will be collected for shipment by a truck from Orphan Grain Train next Monday at 10:30 a.m.

“We’ll need help on that day as well, because we have to load the truck,” Ceman said.

Orphan Grain Train arranges to obtain a shipping container — which can cost as much as $11,000 — for minimal cost. The next stop is the recipient country.

The work is urgent, and Ceman hopes that local efforts can have a significant impact on solving hunger and clothing needs around the globe.

“I don’t care if donors have only a pillowcase they want to give,” Ceman said. “If they’ve got clothes, or if they’ve got nothing to give except time, there are people and organizations that can make a difference. We’re one of them.

“I’m so excited by what we’re doing, and by the support we’re receiving from local businesses and individuals. They all share in the joy of knowing that somebody in need is going to get fed.”

Another volunteer day will be held in July, with that date yet to be announced.

The ultimate goal is to hold three packing days a year, up from the initial two.

For more information, go to the Pella Lutheran Church Facebook page. To volunteer, call Ceman at 920-291-8600. Contributions may be mailed to the church, marked “Mercy Meals.”