Miami-Dade County

Thousands of volunteers at Tamiami Park pack millions of meals for starving children

Jarrick Lee, 28, left, holds a plastic bag under a large metal funnel while Cheryl Singh, 55, pours vitamins and soy through it during a Feed My Starving Children event at the Miami-Dade Youth Fair and Exposition grounds on Jan. 30, 2016.
Jarrick Lee, 28, left, holds a plastic bag under a large metal funnel while Cheryl Singh, 55, pours vitamins and soy through it during a Feed My Starving Children event at the Miami-Dade Youth Fair and Exposition grounds on Jan. 30, 2016. mocner@miamiherald.com

Twenty-five thousand volunteers clad in hairnets they called “party hats” cheerfully packed more than five million meals this week at Tamiami Park for Feed My Starving Children, a Christian organization based in Minnesota that began in 1987.

This year, Feed My Starving Children will produce about 270 million meals for malnourished children around the world, with the help of about one million volunteers. The Tamiami Park was the biggest in the organization’s history.

At the event, which was hosted by the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition, about 1,500 volunteers worked two-and-a-half-hour shift, with up to four shifts per day. Upon entry, they were instructed to wear a hairnet, wash their hands and pack the food carefully in order to abide by FDA standards for food handling.

“We don’t send something to another country that isn’t something we would eat ourselves,” Andy Carr, vice president of development and marketing said.

The food being packaged is a rice mix, which has 20 different vitamins and micronutrients, soy protein and dehydrated vegetables. It is formulated to help malnourished children get back to health.

The warehouse was full of festive volunteers, ages 5 to 95, dancing to the surrounding music and cheering after every box is filled.

“We have police officers, fire rescue, mosques, churches, schools, businesses, home school groups; it really is an effort of all of South Florida. We love bringing a community together to make a difference at an event that will change lives worldwide,” said Anthony Kasper, a mobilepack development adviser.

The 76 food packing stations held about 20 volunteers each, who scooped the ingredients into the bag and sealed them. The bags were then sent to be packed in boxes, placed on pallets and put into containers that will be sent to Haiti and South America.

It costs 22 cents for a meal. With 5,023,080 meals packed out of their 5.4 million goal, they must fundraise about $1.1 million. These meals will feed about 15,000 children every day for a year.

But the food isn’t just handed out to anyone. Local missionaries and non-government organizations send applications to Feed My Starving Children, which must verify the groups and make sure that they have the resources to handle the large food containers, the ability to get them through customs and a method of delivery to the bellies of hungry children.

“Ninety-nine-point-six percent of the food we ship over time makes it to its destination, and we have shipped over a billion meals into some of the most difficult places on the planet,” Carr said. “We pray over every container that we send out, and believe that God’s hand is firmly on this food that he wants to get to his children.”

Southridge High School sophomore Shanady Rivero volunteered with about 15 of her classmates. The experience taught her the value of helping others and being grateful.

“It makes you value everything you have and to not be ungrateful for the little things, because some people don’t have anything at all,” she said.

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