Youth Rise to the Challenge of Fighting Hunger through Meal Packing

May 18, 2015

By Steve Hickle, Faith Outreach Director, Stop Hunger Now

As an Iowa native, I earned my Eagle Scout medal in the Midwest and learned the value of service to others: Scouts pledge to be “helpful” and  “to help other people at all times.” I went to the 1964 National Jamboree, Scouting’s flagship event, at Valley Forge, PA, attended two national Order of the Arrow gatherings, and returned to a Jamboree at The Summit (WV) in 2013. In addition, I’ve trekked Philmont Scout Ranch’s wilderness four times and served as a chaplain in three seasons.

Outside of Scouting, I served four United Methodist appointments in North Carolina spanning thirty-seven years, the last of which lasted twenty-two years. While at that church, I was approached by a brand new organization that had formed around the dream of ending hunger. They were looking for office space for their staff of three, including the group’s founder, Ray Buchanan. Our church building would provide a home to Stop Hunger Now for over eleven years, during which time I served as board member for six years and as chair for three. Stop Hunger Now is an international hunger relief agency at work since 1998, coordinating the distribution of food and other life-saving aid to children and families in countries all over the world.

Beginning a meal packaging program in late 2005, nearly 200 million meals have been packaged solely by volunteers. The meals of rice, soy (protein), dehydrated vegetables and 23 essential vitamins and minerals (much like a standard trail meal) are distributed mainly to school feeding programs in developing countries. Meals in schools attract thousands of children to enroll in school, especially girls, giving them (and their communities) vastly improved opportunities for health, social and economic development.

Volunteers packing meals (Courtesy: Stop Hunger Now)

Volunteers packing meals (Courtesy: Stop Hunger Now)

It is my belief that Stop Hunger Now’s meal packaging program makes for a fine Eagle Scout project (click to view Oklahoma’s News 9 feature on now-Eagle Scout, Ray Martin’s Stop Hunger Now project). Since 2011, Requirement Number 5 has added an international option — which fits perfectly into Stop Hunger Now’s vision for a hunger-free world. There are abundant opportunities for learning leadership, planning, recruiting, funding, event management, learning about a major humanitarian issue and how to speak to and mobilize groups around it.

In recent months, Boy Scouts and also Girl Scouts have accounted for over fifty Stop Hunger Now meal packaging events. While their advancement structures differ, both are drawn to the same aspect of service in the wider world.

In addition, Boys & Girls Clubs are beginning to package meals, sometimes in “disadvantaged” communities. Typically, a corporate or civic sponsor will offer the children this experience in international outreach, where children  that they can have a direct impact on the lives of their counterparts in distant places. In U.S. communities such children are often the recipients of charity. Through meal packaging, the equation is shifting if they, despite their own need, learn that they can uplift the lives of children in developing countries. Along the way, they are often startled to learn that these children may not be able to go to school at all without such food as they are packaging. Other meal-packaging youth would include many faith groups, schools, 4-H Clubs and FFA.

Young people want to do service. Youth organizations like these are positioned to give them that opportunity and to do much good in the world.