Rotarians, students collect meals

Some people go to beaches or tropical countries during spring break.

But instead of taking a trip, a group of Catawba Valley Community College faculty, staff and students are creating more than 150,000 meals for students in Haiti.

They started packing meals Friday with members of area Rotary clubs through the Stop Hunger Now campaign to end hunger worldwide.

Ten rotary clubs from Catawba County and the surrounding area worked together and raised about $28,000 to purchase raw materials for the rice meals that will feed children who attend a school about 20 miles north of Port-au-Prince in Haiti.

It's been more than a year since a deadly earthquake rocked capital Port-au-Prince, but the country is far from rebuilt. So, rotarians wanted to do something to make a difference in the lives of children who continue to live and learn in Haiti.

"The kids know they're going to get fed, so they go to school," said Greg Brandt, of the Lincolnton Rotary Club. "They break that chain of hunger."

Rotary clubs participating in the project include Catawba Valley, Lincolnton, Lincolnton Sunrise, Denver, Lake Norman, Hickory, Newton-Conover, Sherrills-Ford, Hickory Sunrise and Lake Norman.

Almost 100 volunteers, including people from CVCC, gathered at the American Legion Fairgrounds in Hickory on Friday to start the meal-preparation process. The dehydrated meal contains protein, rice and other nutrients for children who could go hungry without food they receive at school. Each bag of food contains about six meals and contains seasonings to reflect food normally eaten in the area where it's shipped.

According to Stop Hunger Now's website, the packaged food stores easily and has a shelf life of about five years.

CVCC student body treasurer Melissa Estep was one student who gave up a day of her spring break to volunteer at Stop Hunger Now.

"I'm here to support Haiti and what they've gone through," she said. "I wanted to help out and make a difference."

Friday's volunteers organized boxes and unloaded food materials to prepare for the hundreds of other volunteers who will arrive Saturday for additional food packing and distribution. The rotary members and other volunteers who come to help Saturday will package the rice and protein into bags, seal the bags and prepare them for shipment to Haiti.

Brandt said there will be three shifts Saturday with about 200 volunteers per shift. They hope to package about 150,000 meals.

For CVCC history education major Mandy Jolly, giving up a day of spring break was a small sacrifice.

"Haiti still needs help," said the 22-year-old. "It's not something we can forget about and move on with our lives. There's been so many people who have come out to help. It's great to see the response from Catawba County."

This is the second time area rotary clubs joined together to help Haiti. They participated in the same program last year after the Jan.12, 2010, earthquake.

"We have been overwhelmed by the response from volunteers," said Anne Williams, of CVCC. "It's a sign of how engaged our students and faculty and staff are in this community."

Rotarians raised about $64,000 last year, which is more than two times the amount raised this year.

"Our money was down a little bit, but we worked just as hard," Brandt said.