Thousands of people across the globe will be a little less hungry, thanks to the efforts of volunteers at Matthews United Methodist Church.
The church recently joined other Charlotte-area churches for the Million Meal March initiative, which works with Stop Hunger Now to provide meals to individuals in need around the world. Hundreds of volunteers of all ages gave part of their Saturday on March 1, joining guest missionaries and packing a total of 40,000 meals.
“This opportunity allowed families to serve together alongside our missionaries,” Shannon Cotton, communications director for the church, said in an email. “We hear positive things about the intergenerational connections that are made through service.”
The packing initiative coincided with the church’s annual Global Impact Celebration, a weekend-long endeavor where people learned from guest missionaries and other community leaders how to become involved in local, domestic and international mission projects.
The three-day celebration, which takes place the weekend before Ash Wednesday each year, also included an “opening ceremony” on Friday; a men’s breakfast, women’s brunch and dinner with missionaries on Saturday; and a commitment-focused service on Sunday morning.
When church leaders heard about the chance to become involved in Million Meal March, they felt it fit perfectly with the theme of the annual celebration.
“During March, they wanted Charlotte-area churches to pack 1 million meals for the poorest of the poor – the hungriest people in the world, and to do (those) 1 million meals in March,” Marilyn Sczech, the church’s Global Impact Celebration coordinator, said. “It coincided with our Global Impact Celebration, an effort to get our congregation to focus on mission work, so it fit really well for us.”
Leaders learned they could fund a single meal for only 25 cents and decided to give $10,000 to fund 40,000 meals. They sent out a call for volunteers, and the response, Sczech said, was overwhelming.
“Based on input from Stop Hunger Now, we were going to pack from 1 to 7 p.m. in three shifts and needed about 100 people for each shift,” she said. “We used an online registration system so people could sign up. We were full in no time … I know we had 150 (volunteers) at the first session … and about 120 at each of the other sessions. We probably had close to 400 volunteers that day.”
Volunteers gathered around tables in an assembly line fashion and packed rice, dried vegetables, soy protein and seasoning into bags. The bags were then weighed, heat-sealed and packaged to be delivered to Stop Hunger Now.
The cool thing about the initiative, Sczech said, is it gave people of all ages a chance to help. Children as young as 4 years old could participate, along with elderly volunteers who typically can’t take part in mission projects.
“What was wonderful for us is this was a multigenerational activity,” Sczech said. “For mission trips, the very young and very old can’t participate … We had children with their parents and grandparents all around the same table, packing food. It was very special for us because it got people involved that don’t usually have the opportunity to help those less fortunate.”
Sczech said most of the meals will be sent to Haiti and the Philippines and distributed primarily through schools and orphanages to children in need.
“With these meals, students can learn and develop and get out of the cycle of poverty and child labor and really learn to do something else,” Sczech said of the philosophy behind the distribution methods.
The church hasn’t officially made a commitment to participate in the Million Meal March next year, but Sczech said it’s a strong possibility this could become an annual endeavor based on the response from volunteers. And it’s something that could expand in years to come, she added.
“Since we had such a great turnout, we really feel like we can double (the number of meals we provide) next time we do it,” Sczech said.