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Lees Corner Sixth-Graders Help Stop Hunger Now

Scooping rice and soy protein into a funnel and then into a bag for packaging are (from left) Celie Anderson, Nicole Cohen, Samantha San, Akhil Havaldar and Katelin Bracewell.

Scooping rice and soy protein into a funnel and then into a bag for packaging are (from left) Celie Anderson, Nicole Cohen, Samantha San, Akhil Havaldar and Katelin Bracewell. Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.

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Children weigh and seal the food bags in assembly-line fashion. (Tall man in center is teacher Jeffrey Houser). For shipping, each meal package must weigh between 389 and 394 grams.

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From left: Braeden Froberg, Ryan Bracewell, Damian Parson, parent Keir Froberg, second-grader Kristina Bracewell (Ryan’s sister) and Iain Froberg measure out the food and funnel it into bags.

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Natalie Hodinko (left) and Kristina Bracewell prepare to sound the gong at the 4,000-package mark.

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Students weigh and seal the food packages.

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Teacher Jeffrey Houser works alongside his students.

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Moms Lynne Tenny (left) and Kim Olsen pack 36 meal packages per box.

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Jisoo Cheong (left) and Emily Schloss weigh the food bags and add or subtract rice, as needed.

— Children at Lees Corner Elementary are taking a bite out of world hunger. They raised money to purchase food and, last Wednesday, April 24, students in teacher Jeffrey Houser’s sixth-grade class packaged enough meals to feed 103,200 people.

“I think it’s fantastic; I’m really proud of these kids,” said Dominic Alexander, program manager for Stop Hunger Now’s National Capital facility in Ashburn.

“This is also empowering for these students because it gives them the opportunity to save the lives of kids just like them,” he continued. “So this is kids helping kids — and they’ll feed children all over the world without having to leave their school cafeteria.”

Stop Hunger Now’s mission is to end hunger by giving food and aid to the world’s most vulnerable people (www.stophungernow.org). One way is via its Meal Packaging Program. It’s volunteer-based and results in people in desperate poverty receiving rice-soy meals fortified with vitamins, minerals and dehydrated vegetables.

In the last seven years, the organization has shipped more than 100 million meals to more than 41 countries around the world. It also provides items such as blankets, clothing, baby formula, water, tents, books and sports equipment.

Lees Corner students became aware of its food program through the efforts of sixth-graders Celie Anderson and Ryan Bracewell. Their families are friends who learned about the program by participating in it at their church, Floris United Methodist.

“Our church raised $20,000 and packaged 80,000 meals last spring,” said Ryan. “When we realized we weren’t going to do it again, this year, my mom thought it would be a good idea to do it in school. Then Celie and I talked about how much fun it was to do things like this in our church.”

So, said Celie, “Ryan and I decided to do this together. We made posters to tell our classroom about it. The posters told them about the fundraising, how they could help and facts about hunger. We learned that, in the world, a child dies every 3 seconds from hunger. I felt really sad and thought we should help.”

Initially, they hoped to raise $2,500 to buy the food for 10,000 high-protein meals at a cost of 25 cents/meal. But they eventually exceeded that goal and raised a total of $4,300 — enough for 17,200 meals. And each meal feeds six people.

To raise the money, said Celie, “We had a bake sale and made brownies and cookies and sold them to neighbors. We made $300. Then we had a second bake sale on CYA baseball’s opening day at the baseball field across from Chantilly High and made $1,000.”

They raised another $500 through a bake sale at a Lees Corner basketball game, and classmate Justin Nguyen sold lemonade at a stand outside his house and raised $100 more. “We also told people to ask their families and neighbors for money and that raised us over $2,000,” said Celie. “I’m just really happy we’ll be able to feed people who need food.”

Ryan said some of the teachers donated money, too. And on April 19, coin jars brought in from classmates yielded another $500. “We told them to donate 25 cents because that’s how much it costs for a child in a poor country to have a meal.”

Last Wednesday after school, Ryan, Celie, fellow students in Houser’s class, plus some siblings and parents, washed their hands, donned shower caps (for sanitation) and gathered in Lees Corner’s cafeteria. Then they broke into groups to carry out each part of the meal-packaging operation.

It was an assembly-line process in which the children used funnels, scales and hot sealers to create the meal packages, one by one, and then parents packed them into boxes. And each time 1,000 food packages were boxed-up, a gong was sounded and the room erupted into cheers.

At several tables, students measured each ingredient going into the packages. “We’re filling up each bag with one cup of soy protein, one cup of rice and one tablespoon of dehydrated vegetables,” said Franklin Middle eighth-grader Katelin Bracewell, Ryan’s sister. “The seasoning has 21 different vitamins for the kids.”

Lees Corner sixth-grader Akhil Havaldar said celery, onions, carrots, cabbage, bell peppers and tomatoes were in the vegetable mixture. “It’s fun because it’s helping people and I get to be with my friends,” said classmate Nicole Cohen.

Iain Froberg measured soy protein in a coffee cup while younger brother Braeden “shoved packets of flavor and vitamins into plastic bags.” Earlier, he’d measured rice and vegetables. “It’s important because I’m saving kids’ lives,” he said. “It makes me feel proud because I’m bringing joy to other people.”

The meals are used in crisis situations in developing countries. A majority of them are distributed via ongoing, school feeding programs. When the food from Lees Corner is shipped to a particular country, the school will be notified so the children will know where people will be eating the meals they provided.

Ryan was glad his classmates and their families got involved in the effort. “They look like they’re having fun doing this together today,” he said on Wednesday. “And we know this is for the greater good.”

Teacher Houser worked alongside his students. “I’m very proud of them,” he said. “They really worked hard in a variety of ways to raise the money, and each had coin-collection jars for family members and visitors. And some — instead of going out to dinner for a meal — put the money they would have spent into their jar.”

He hopes to expand participation in the Stop Hunger Now program to all Lees Corner sixth-graders next year. He said his 25-student class was excited about the project. “We had 100-percent participation,” said Houser. “They’re just super kids who work well together. They’re in an advanced-academic program, so they’ve moved together in school for the past four years.”

During the first semester, many of his students already did community service, lending a hand to Western Fairfax Christian Ministries, their churches, parks and beautification projects in their neighborhoods. Some played musical instruments and games with the elderly residents of Sunrise assisted living.

“Then they told each other, in front of the class, what they did so they’d learn different avenues of helping,” said Houser. “This semester, we decided to help the world. It’s important for them to appreciate what they have and not take it for granted. They’ll also do a written reflection on this project and tell what they learned. And, hopefully, they’ll take this experience with them into adulthood and continue giving back to their communities and becoming leaders. I see them all doing that.”