Burke residents Anne and Dave Leeson, left, and Amy and Joseph Baldi, right, fill a plastic bag Oct. 21 with a vitamin pack, a scoop of soy flour, a tablespoon of dehydrated vegetables and a scoop of rice in the cafeteria at Terra Centre Elementary School on Burke Centre Parkway for hunger-relief charity Rise Against Hunger.
Photo by Marti Moore/The Connection
At 10:24 a.m. Saturday, nearly 50 people in a Burke Elementary School cafeteria are jamming to a 2008 hit song by Beyoncé Knowles.
“Now put your hands up ….”
This is no bouquet-toss ceremony for all the “Single Ladies” at a morning wedding reception. No one is swept off their feet. All the volunteers are caught-up in the fast beat of this award-winning 2010 Grammy Song of the Year as they attempt to prepare 4,000 meals according to the exacting measures of a particular recipe.
In just one hour.
“Oh, oh, oh ….”
All the volunteers are committed wholeheartedly to feeding hungry school children in Third World countries — and the United States of America — which boasts an average 14.3 percent of households at risk of hunger in each state, according to numbers crunched by faith-based charity Bread for the World. This Washington, D.C., advocacy claims higher percentages in 10 states from Ohio to Texas, with 22 percent of households in Mississippi facing a hunger crisis.
“Oh, oh, oh ….”
A 2014 study conducted by Feeding America found 1 in 9 people in the Commonwealth of Virginia — or 935,480 residents — struggle with hunger. According to Fairfax County Public Schools, nearly 28 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
“In the U.S., hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty,” cites Bread for the World.
GENEROUS DONORS are quick to open their hearts and wallets. They gave millions of dollars last month to humanitarian aid causes in direct response to catastrophic hurricanes and earthquakes.
More disposable cash has been burned in the past three weeks by another crisis out west, where fast-moving wildfires have devastated much of California. According to the Oct. 24 Statewide Fire Summary, 21 major wildfires burned more than 250,000 acres, forced 100,000 California residents to evacuate, destroyed nearly 8,400 structures, “and sadly, took the lives of 42 people.”
In just three short weeks.
Local charities are bracing for tighter operating budgets soon due to storm fatigue. Jane Wilson, director of outreach missions at Burke United Methodist Church, said last month she saw this coming.
Her church responded to one of those critical needs with “Burke Gives Back: Changing the World” — a food drive Oct. 21 at the Terra Centre Elementary School.
Wilson moved this annual church activity to a local school cafeteria this year in order to get the Burke community actively engaged in a global hunger-relief effort. Its mission is simple: package 25,000 dehydrated meals.
In just four short hours.
“I have 48 people signed up for each shift,” Wilson said. The assembly line had five tables with four volunteers filling each plastic bag with a vitamin pack, a scoop of soy flour, a tablespoon of dehydrated vegetables and a scoop of rice.
AT ANOTHER ROW of five tables, volunteers precisely weighed each 13.58-ounce bag then sealed the rice-soy fortified meal. Those bags were collected by another team that prepared them for shipment. Boxes were stacked then transferred onto shipping pallets and put on a truck.
Joe Gautier, assistant manager of community engagement for Rise Against Hunger, motivated his team of volunteers with a musical playlist of energetic songs that appealed to a multi-generational crowd.
At 10:45 a.m., he announces to the 10-11 a.m. shift they just completed 4,000 meals. This is no time to quit. Participants continue packaging more meals to 1977 hit song “Dancing Queen” by Abba.
“Watch that scene.”
At a typical Rise Against Hunger event, 40-to-50 volunteers can assemble 10,152 meals in nearly two hours. This Raleigh, N.C., non-profit is determined to end hunger around the world by 2030. Its primary focus is school children in developing nations because education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty.
“That gives parents an incentive to send their kids to school,” said Gautier. “Education helps them help themselves.” He said 10 percent of the meals they package are used for disaster relief.
Each meal costs 29 cents. “The budget for this was $9,200,” Wilson said. Funds were raised by members at Burke United Methodist Church. Local businesses contributed nearly $2,000. The ingredients alone for this project cost $6,700.
Wilson had another team of volunteers spread out at four local grocery stores collecting cash donations and non perishable food for three area pantries: Fairfax food banks FACETS at 10640 Page Ave. and Food for Others at 2938 Prosperity Ave., as well as Springfield charity ECHO (Ecumenical Community Helping Others) at 7205 Old Keene Mill Road.
She hopes this “Burke Gives Back: Changing the World” project will serve as template for future community outreach activities and makes one thing clear: “This is not about our church, this is about our community.”