The Friday night before Thanksgiving week, volunteers gathered at Virginia Beach United Methodist Church (VBUMC), put on hairnets, helped each other with plastic gloves and then waited patiently for further instructions.
“How many of you had breakfast at home or school this morning,” asked Kate Millman, a program manager with Stop Hunger Now and 2005 graduate of Landstown High School.
Everyone raised their hands.
“How many of you had lunch at work or school this afternoon?,” Millman asked.
Once again, all volunteers raised their hands.
Millman asked the crowd if they had ever heard the term “chronic hunger” and explained that children in third world countries will go without food for one, two and three days. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, Millman saw this hunger first hand, and she said that the goal of her organization is to end hunger in her lifetime.
“With the help of volunteers like you, I hope to be out of a job one day,” she said.
With that background, Millman then provided instructions for the assembly line process to prepare, weigh, seal and pack 15,000 meal packets to send overseas.
Several Cooke Elementary students were among the volunteers in hairnets and gloves. Cooke first-grade teacher Laura Beth Lawver arranged for the students, who benefit from the church’s “Care by Community” (CBC) partnership with the school, to participate in the meal packing event. She thought it would be the perfect opportunity for CBC students to learn about community service during this season of giving.
“We wanted to find a way to have the CBC kids, who are always on the receiving end, give back and help others,” explained Lawver. “It is also a way for the school to give back to the church that does so much for us.”
Through the CBC partnership, Cooke staff members accompany students to VBUMC every Monday and Wednesday afternoon where church volunteers provide students with a fresh-baked snack, help with homework, join in recreation activities and provide dinner. A VBUMC bus takes the students home each evening.
“The church even bought an extra bus last year so we could accommodate more kids in the CBC program,” added Lawver.
The families of CBC students were also invited to the event, and no hand was too small to help. Preschool-age siblings placed vitamin packets in meal bags, and parents held funnels steady while students poured in scoops rice, soy and dehydrated vegetables. One new CBC student, Atreia, enrolled at Cooke just a few days prior to the event, was praised by the Kellam and First Colonial high school students working with her to fill meal packets.
It did not take long for the assembly line volunteers to hit full stride on their mission to fill 15,000 packets in less than two hours.
“Who has more bags,” asked one student. “We need more bags to fill!”
“Let’s rotate so everyone gets a chance to do all jobs,” suggested another.
A third student exclaimed, “Mrs. Lawver, this is so much fun!”
By 7:45 p.m., less than 90 minutes after the work began, the final box of meal packets was sealed and ready for delivery.
Lawver described the event as one the CBC students would surely remember. “I am so proud of them and listening to their excitement on the bus on the way home made it that much better,” she said. “They were so proud of themselves for helping and working so hard.”