64 churches, 500K meals

In the time it takes to read this sentence, one child will have died from starvation.

That's the message area churches want to spread as they prepare to package 500,000 meals for impoverished communities around the world.

Sixty-four churches from Catawba, Iredell and Alexander counties agreed to participate in the Stop Hunger Now campaign, which provides low-cost, nutritious meals for children in countries such as Japan, Haiti and Honduras.

Each meal costs 25 cents, which means the churches in the Statesville District of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church need $125,000 to meet their goal.

"With economic times the way they are, we don't know how much church members can donate, even if they want to," said Susan Reinhardt, a member of First United Methodist Church in Newton and a volunteer for the project.

So, churches involved in the project are calling on other civic groups, Boy Scout troops and volunteers to help assist raising the money and supporting the mission to package 500,000 meals.

"This is one small part; this is our contribution," said Pete Ross, one of the project's coordinators from Bethel Methodist in Longview. "This is what our district took on to change not only a child's life, but the volunteers' lives, as well."

Since the project started in January, Ross said he's noticed that he pays more attention to the small things in life and is more aware of the hardships others face around the world.

Reinhardt agreed.

"This is a cause that is getting into the heart of our people," she said.

The churches will come together May 14, dubbed Change the World Day, to package meals at locations in Newton and Statesville. Catawba County volunteers can come to the Newton Armory located off U.S. 321 to participate in one of three shifts.

Reinhardt and Ross estimated the churches need about 2,000 volunteers to assist with the packaging process.

"There's a lot more involved in it than just packaging," Ross said. "Each station has a different job."

Ross said the packaging event is a great opportunity for Boy Scouts trying to earn their Eagle Scout rank or school civic clubs hoping to earn service hours.

Volunteers will take the raw materials used in the meals, like rice and minerals, and put them into sealed bags for distribution. The food is easily transported and has a long shelf life that prevents it from being spoiled during transit.

Stop Hunger Now allows its volunteers to choose where in the world their packaged meals are sent, but the 64 churches chose not to specify an exact location.

Reinhardt said the churches simply want the food to go "where it's needed."

Once the meals reach their destinations, they are sent to schools to encourage children to attend and get an education. Other organizations have partnered with Stop Hunger Now to provide clean water needed to make rice meals.

According to the Stop Hunger Now website, the organization packaged more than 370,000 meals this week, bringing the total meals packaged to more than 40.6 million.

To volunteer, donate or be part of the churches' Stop Hunger Now project, contact Ross at (828) 320-7613 or by email at pross2896@aol.com.