Philadelphia United Methodist Church member Kelli Flicek pours ingredients into a funnel, leading to a plastic bag, to create a meal for a hungry child in Uganda.
Since its founding in 1837, Philadelphia United Methodist Church has always been a mission-minded church, but nothing has been quite as unique as the mission work the Conyers church recently did to feed hungry children in Uganda.
Taking part in the international Stop Hunger Now campaign, Philadelphia UMC members gathered at the church on West Hightower Trail two weeks ago to package more than 10,000 meals that will be sent to orphanages and schools in a part of the world where hunger is rampant.
"It was touching to know that my hands were going to feed a child somewhere," said Philadelphia UMC Mission Chairman Aaron Brooks. "We take things for granted sometimes. My child never misses a meal. Being a part of something (like this) where you're really sending it to somebody who would go without if you didn't do this, really touched me."
Brooks said his church has always supported missions, but members wanted to be more physically involved in carrying out mission work. After attending a meeting with the United Methodist Conference, he came back to his church and told his fellow members he had learned about the Stop Hunger Now program and said, "I think we can do this."
Church members worked to raise the $2,500 needed to pay for the products that would go into the meals and for the shipping costs to send them to Uganda. Thanks to proceeds from a 5K/walk-a-thon, a pancake supper, vacation Bible school Sand a spaghetti lunch on Patriots' Day Sept. 11, the church reached its goal.
The packing event was held in the church where volunteers of all ages set up at different stations to package the rice, dried vegetables, soy protein and vitamin pack that would go into each specially-made plastic bag as a pre-packaged meal. The sealed bags are designed to hold up during long-distance shipping and the dried meals can be kept up to three years, Brooks said.
Church members worked in teams to assemble the bags, weigh them and then pack them into boxes to be shipped. Runners were on hand to replenish supplies for each station. In about an hour's time, church members had packaged more then 10,000 meals.
The Philadelphia UMC work was just part of the Stop Hunger Now effort going on around Atlanta that weekend as other churches took part in the program, packaging more than 70,000 meals in the Atlanta area the third weekend in October.
When Philadelphia UMC decided to do the mission project and put the Oct. 16 date on its church calendar three months ago, Brooks said they had no idea that the date was also the United Nations' World Food Day.
"It's nice when God is even in the little things," he said.
Philadelphia UMC volunteers ranged in age from 5 years old to senior citizens and the activity offered an opportunity for many church members to get involved.
"That's what made it such a great event," Brooks said. "It was something everybody could take part in."
Church members had already had a chance to actually sample the pre-packaged meals at a youth gathering and at the September spaghetti supper. Brooks said it was "surprisingly much better than what I thought it would be and almost had a rice casserole taste."
While the 1-cup serving is not much, it is often the only thing many of the children in poor countries served by Stop Hunger Now have to eat for the entire day, he said.
Staff members from the Atlanta office of Stop Hunger Now were on hand to help coordinate the event and to deliver the rice and other products that were to be packaged. Brooks offered high praise for how well the mission organization operates.
Based in Raleigh, N.C., the international hunger relief organization has been working for more than 13 years to fulfill its commitment to end hunger. Since 1998, Stop Hunger Now has coordinated and distributed food and other aid to children and families in countries all over the world.
Stop Hunger Now launched its meal packaging program in 2005. The program depends upon an assembly process that combines the rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring mix (which contains 21 vitamins and minerals) into meal packets which cost 25 cents each. Working with its international partners, Stop Hunger Now ships and distributes the meals, having delivered a record-breaking 16.4 million packaged meals last year.
Stop Hunger Now reports that one out of four children, or around 146 million, in developing countries are malnourished. One child dies every six seconds from malnutrition and related causes, the organization states on its website, www.stophungernow.org.
Stop Hunger Now's board of directors includes ministers, educators, an attorney and several business professionals, including Georgia resident Matthew Hong of Atlanta, vice president and general manager for sports operations at Turner Sports.
Brooks said working with Stop Hunger Now was "awesome" and that while his church mission group has not had its meeting to plan for next year, Brooks said the packing event is something they "would definitely take part in again in the future."
"I am very happy it was such an extraordinary event," he said. "It touched everybody involved."