Roughly 2,000 volunteers made it out Saturday to package rice- and soy-based meals for a group called Feed My Starving Children to be sent to needy populations around the world, including the Phillipines, which was recently devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.
It was the second event of its kind held in Minot, with the first in 2010.
The volunteers worked in four shifts, the first beginning at 9 a.m. and the last at 4:30 p.m., of roughly 500 volunteers each. They came and worked in teams, often wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the name of the social group or church they came from.
A volunteer group from Hope Lutheran Church in Sawyer comprised of Pastor Tim Mantei, Cindy Krueger, Dennis Krueger, Daniel Mantei, Janet Mantei, all participate in the 2 p.m. shift Saturday in the North Dakota Fair Center to package rice meals that will be sent to needy people around the world. The church was happy that their full average attendance of 20 people all made it to the event.
Chad Riskus, a Feed My Starving Children truck driver, and Michelle Knight, a Feed My Starving Children employee, stand next to pallets ready to be loaded into the truck. Each pallet is made up of 36 boxes, which are each filled with 36 packets and each packet contains six meals. In total a pallet holds 7,776 meals.
They filled the parking lot outside the North Dakota State Fair Center, often having to park alongside the road because the parking lot was filled to capacity, and then entered the orientation area after checking their coats and receiving a mandatory hair-net. There they were presented with videos explaining the purpose of the organization and how the food was to be packaged.
"You always hear about the horror stories about aid being sent overseas and then sitting on the tarmac of the airport or the thugs in a corrupt government take it and the hungry people never get it," said Verla Rostad, of Minot, who organized the event with her husband, Jim, in an interview. "So, I started doing an Internet search on world hunger organizations and a lot of the times when I'm searching, especially for a charitable organization, I look at how efficiently they use their donated dollars."
When she found Feed My Starving Children she also found it was highly rated in efficiency. Part of that efficiency, she says, is because "the food they send is packaged by volunteers."
The volunteers on Saturday were packaging bags of MannPack Rice, each pack, which makes up six meals, consists of a mixture of rice, extruded soy nuggets, vitamins and minerals, and dehydrated vegetables, which are mainly carrots and potatoes and add further flavor as well as nutrition.
The meals can be made simply with boiling water and were developed by the Christian non-profit organization as well as food scientists in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota to be as nutritious and cost-efficient as possible.
And, the sence of charity and mission seemed to put smiles on faces all around the packaging room.
"Our average attendance is 20 and so we have full attendance representation here," said Jim Mantei, the pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Sawyer, a part of a volunteer group this reporter was placed with to package food. "This is a lot of fun. This is a great community builder. Working side by side with people I normally only see on Sunday mornings ... And, plus, to get everyone here to know each other because there's new people moving to North Dakota and new people attending our church from other states and this is another way to get to know one another."
"We're doing it for such a good cause," said Dennis Krueger of the same group. "We'll be waiting for the next one. I wish they had them more often."
The Rostads had originally wanted to hold the event, called a "mobile pack" event because the organization brings the supplies to a place like Minot that is not one of the permanent sites, once every two years. But, because of the flood in 2011, they felt it may have been too soon to plan such a large event following the tragedy and postponed the second one from 2012 to 2013.
Also, at a goal of 400,000 meals and an expected production of 420,000 meals, fundraising is also an issue that could affect the scheduling of the events. The food and supplies total for this event came out to roughly $90,000.
"When Jesus said 'I was hungry and you gave me food' is kind of where Feed My Starving Children comes from, a kind of biblical command to help those less fortunate and it's really all a response to that," Rostad said. "But I think it's more than a biblical thing. I think it's human nature to want to help the less fortunate."