During just four two-hour shifts this weekend in Billings, volunteers will be packaging enough food to feed almost everyone in Montana one meal.
But the food won’t be going to people in Montana. It will be delivered to severely malnourished children around the world. As many as 750 volunteers are expected to show up this Friday and Saturday at the Montana Pavilion at MetraPark to make up to 150,000 food packets, each of which contains six servings.
The project is part of Feed My Starving Children, a Minnesota-based charity that has seven permanent food-packing sites in three states. It also helps to organize “MobilePack” events like the one scheduled in Billings, the first ever in Montana. Last year alone, according to the Christian nonprofit agency, nearly 800,000 volunteers in 35 states packed more than 64 million meals.
The idea of bringing a MobilePack event to Billings started with Keith Lauver, of Red Lodge, whose Cooksimple line of healthful boxed meals are sold in nearly 6,000 stores around the country and in Canada and Australia.
He said he “intersected” with the Feed My Starving Children organization in the course of running his business.
“It just touched a chord in my heart and I knew I had to get involved and help them,” he said.
He donated some of his profits to the group and got involved in its events in other states. Two years ago his wife, Theresa, and one of his sons, Eli, went to a MobilePack gathering in Phoenix. Eli in particular was excited by the opportunity to play a direct, hands-on role in dealing with a global problem.
When his son got home, Lauver said, “He asked me a very basic question: Why aren’t we doing this in Montana.” Lauver’s short answer, he said, was “’We should.’ It just took a couple of years for the timing to be right.”
Setting up a MobilePack event takes a lot of volunteers and a huge amount of organization work, Lauver said, so he turned to the SAGE Homeschool Co-op (the acronym stands for Seeking a Godly Education), whose members gather every Monday at Harvest Church to socialize and encourage one another.
“Those families got behind this project,” Lauver said. “They said, ‘Absolutely. Let’s get our kids involved in a service project.’”
They did so by having a core group of children serve on committees that would deal with volunteer recruitment, logistics, fundraising, hospitality and marketing. A separate group organized prayer sessions to pray for the success of the project. Since most of the homeschool teachers are mothers, each committee was led by one of the fathers, who acted as the coach. One child served as a captain for each team and the rest as team members.
Their original goal was to round up at least 500 volunteers, who would prepare 100,000 food packets. But the number of volunteers who have made commitments recently passed 700, and the goal now is to make 150,000 packets.
When the people at Feed My Starving Children heard about those numbers, Lauver said, “They were blown away.”
Every single meal bag is packed by volunteers and the project is 100 percent paid for by local fundraising efforts. Feed My Starving Children will deliver all the ingredients, packaging and equipment to the Montana Pavilion either Thursday night or Friday morning, Lauver said. A three-person team from the national organization will be on hand to coordinate the event.
The basic meal bag is called MannaPack Rice and consists of rice; soy nuggets for protein; vitamins, minerals and a vegetarian flavoring; and dehydrated vegetables for flavor and nutrition. Other specialty packs are made for children too young to eat the rice mix and another is designed to help people recover from diarrhea, the leading cause of death of malnourished children.
All the meals are designed for simple preparation—just add boiling water to the rice dish—and to provide maximum nutrition. Each one costs 22 cents and provides six servings.
As of the end of last week, organizers of the local effort had raised $15,000 of the $35,000 they will need to make 150,000 packages. One of the most successful fundraising tools, Lauver said, was having the kids collect quarters in M&M candy tubes. Each tube holds enough quarters to make about 60 packets, he said.
“We’ve received thousands of dollars in just quarters,” Lauver said. “A quarter is roughly the cost of a meal, and the kids really latched onto that.”
Volunteers will be working in two-hour shifts—one shift on Friday evening and three during the day on Saturday—and people are welcome to work more than one shift.
You can volunteer by clicking on the link on the Facebook page created for the event, or you can call Lauver at (406) 425-1743. He would also be more than happy to talk to you about donations.
Click here to watch a video about the Billings project.