Going into its eighth year the Mon-Preston Rotary Packaging Event took place Saturday at the Wesley United Methodist Church. Jim Culberson, of the Morgantown North Rotary, had the idea to start this tradition because somebody in his Rotary district decided one year at a conference they were going to take on a similar project.
“It was a real neat experience. We had a good time,” he said.
Culberson had some experience working in the developing world, and knew of international groups who worked to help fight hunger. He said some work well, and some don’t — Rise Against Hunger, he said, falls into the former category.
Rise Against Hunger is a nonprofit that came out of North Carolina in 1998. In 2005, the organization started packing and sending dehydrated meals to countries in the developing world. Originally, the organization was called Stop Hunger Now, but Culberson said it has since re-branded. They now help in natural disasters as well as agricultural development.
Andrew Moser, community engagement manager for Rise Against Hunger, said the organization has packaged 380 million meals and served 72 countries.
He said the potential to provide more food in the future is growing exponentially.
Culberson said Rotary and other volunteers have packed 250,000 meals. In one day alone, they can pack up to 45,000 meals.
It’s almost serendipitous how the tradition got started. Culberson rounded up the Rotary Clubs in the area and together they started collecting money to buy the materials to pack meals. Each meal costs 29 cents, and six meals fit in one bag. All it takes to reconstitute the meals is some boiling water.
“I noticed we had four Rotary Clubs in Morgantown, and in history we’ve never done a project together, so I thought why don’t we do something together, and that’s how this grew,” he said.
Since then, the operation has grown, and Culberson thinks with the right number of volunteers, they could package 100,000 meals in a day.
“The packaging is just a ball, you can see people just having fun,” he said.
The operation is an interesting sight. Working at tables side my side, volunteers each take on different roles to make the process go quickly. Certain volunteers fill the bags with food, others weigh the bags, and someone carries the packaged meals between stations. Eventually, someone seals it shut and it’s boxed and put onto a pallet where it will be shipped away.
Volunteers include Rotary members, church goers from Wesley United Methodist and also Wal-Mart employees. WVU students worked packaging meals in the afternoon. They were recruited by WVU’s Center for Service and Learning and their packaging materials are funded by the Rotary District.