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Feed My Starving Children

November 18, 2009 at 2:21 pm
By Margaret Taylor '10

What is it that Carleton students get up to when they engage in the community?

They might help a nonprofit organization package food that is going to be shipped to children in developing countries, for one thing.  Feed My Starving Children is a nonprofit organization that obtains inexpensive, nutritious food, then harnesses an army of volunteer labor to package it and ship it to malnourished children across the world.  Every year they come to the Northfield Armory to hold a food-packing extravaganza.  Because it’s a one-time event, it’s perfect for Carleton students who need to fit volunteer work around a busy 9th weekend homework schedule.

Shannon Mueller ’12 organized the contingent of Carls who were going down to the event.  We met in front of Sayles on Saturday afternoon, then walked down to the Armory as a group.  There we were greeted by smiling volunteers in hairnets and led down into the basement for an orientation meeting.

We meet a lot of people from the greater Northfield community there, old, young or sporting a St. Olaf sweatshirt.  It’s quickly apparent that we aren’t on Carleton campus anymore: when the organizer asks the audience how many vegetarians are present, about four hands go up.  She then explains that the Feed My Starving Children meals are vegetarian so they will interfere with as few people’s dietary laws abroad as possible.  The meals, designed by Minnesota food scientists, are composed of four ingredients: chicken-flavored broth powder, dehydrated vegetables, rice, and textured soy protein.  These meals are nutritionally complete, easy to digest, keep forever, and cost 17¢ a bag to produce (each bag makes six meals).

That’s where the volunteers’ mission comes in: each of the four ingredients comes to Feed My Starving Children in huge bulk canisters.  They need volunteers to mix the four ingredients in the right proportions and bag them for shipping.  This is the third time annually that Northfield has mobilized volunteers for food packing.  The first year Northfield packed 150,000 meals, the second, 170,000 meals, and this year they’re aiming to pack 300,000 meals.

After the orientation, we go upstairs and the party starts.  The Armory space has the atmosphere of a festive factory floor as a little friendly competition starts up between the tables to see who can pack boxes the fastest.  The peppy Michael Jackson dance tunes on the loudspeaker only helps.  The Carleton team winds up sharing a table with a 3-generation Northfield family.  The kids and Grandma scoop the broth, veggies, soy, and rice into the bags, the mom and I take the bags off the funnels, then other Carls weigh the bags, seal them, and pack them in boxes.  Every once in a while somebody yells out “Soy!” and the warehouse crew volunteers haul over more soy.  And there are the cheers.  Just so everybody knows how speedy they are, each table comes up with a distinctive cheer to make when they’ve finished a box.  Our table’s is “Shark bait!  Wo-ha-ha!” from Finding Nemo.

Just like an Iron Chef competition, there is a three-minute warning before the end of the packing period.  We scurry to finish up the box we’re on before the time is up.  After some quick multiplication, the organizers found that in one afternoon, we packed 33,912 meals, or enough to feed 92 kids for a year.

If you’d like to participate, Feed My Starving Children will be back next year.  Or you can go to one of their facilities in Chanhassen or Eagan, MN where they have packing every day, all year round.