Friday, February 26, 2010

Saving the World: Here's a Good Start

My friend Cara Modisett (editor of Blue Ridge Country Magazine) asked if I would help get out the word on Roanoke’s Stop Hunger Now project, of which, she says, “Haiti ramped up SHN's efforts, and the Haiti projects are enormous. SHN Roanoke would like to double its project from 140,000 meals to more than 280,000, and the biggest hurdle to cross--in a week--is raising $70,000 to do it. Hence the need to get the word out. The project has no shortage of volunteers--more than 1,000 have committed.”

SHN’s press release explains the concept:

The idea took root in one small Episcopal church, right after the earthquakes that shattered Haiti. In a short time, the project grew, and on March 14, somewhere between 1,000 and 1,300 volunteers will gather at Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke to pack as many as a quarter of a million meals to ship to Haiti.

The project is Stop Hunger Now, affiliated with the nonprofit Stop Hunger Now based in Raleigh and founded in 1998; it’s sent $66 million worth of food and water to more than 70 countries around the world. In 2005, it started Operation Sharehouse, a meal-packing program, coordinated by volunteers in American communities, and has packed 20 million meals of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and flavoring mixes. The meals have a shelf life of five years.

Jenny Fife, wife of St. Elizabeth’s rector, had already talked with Stop Hunger Now about doing a basic Operation Sharehouse project – raising $2,500 and packaging 10,000 meals – when the earthquakes struck. Then the plans changed: “Why not help Haiti?”

Helping Haiti meant expanding the project. “We had to go from $2,500 to $35,000, and from 50 volunteers to 500 to 800.” An organizational meeting resulted in $28,000 worth of pledges, and the goal of creating a community-wide, non-denominational project inviting volunteers of all ages, backgrounds and denominations. “I’ve never been in a room together, since I’ve been in Roanoke, with Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, all working together on a project like this. It’s rare – all of us are so busy in our own parishes.”

The event will take place March 14 at Patrick Henry High School. Volunteers have signed up in the hundreds from schools, churches and organizations. Individuals, churches and businesses are donating the funds required to purchase the meal supplies. The ultimate goal--to raise not just $35,000, but $71,280, and package not just 140,000 meals, but 285,120. To double its efforts, the Stop Hunger Now Roanoke event is working fast to complete its fundraising by a week prior to the event.

It can be done: An organization of Methodist churches in Lynchburg held a meal packing event that drew more than 3,000 volunteers and packaged 210,000 meals in a few hours. So far Stop Hunger Now has sent 2.5 million meals to Haiti.

There’s something life-changing in the SHN experience, says Fife. “You know this little packet is going to be opened over a fire, or by children in school uniforms. The power of this event is you feel connected to the people you’re helping.”

“Our goal is to end hunger in our lifetime,” says Troy Henson, the Virginia program coordinator for SHN. “I’m a pretty young guy, and I’d like to go get another job because there is no longer hunger in the world.” Stop Hunger Now is online at The site includes video updates on SHN’s Haiti relief.

The Stop Hunger Now Roanoke project is online here and on Facebook and Twitter at @SHNRoanoke.

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