Note: This story is about last year’s (2015) meal packaging event. If you’re interested in signing up for or learning more about this year’s packaging event (2016), click here.
You receive a hair net and gloves, then are assigned to one of the five long tables set up in the open room. The room is bustling with activity—people scooping food, sticking labels, sealing bags, and packing boxes.
You’re given the task of scooping a cup of rice into the little plastic bags making their way down the assembly line. Before you get it, dehydrated vegetables, a vitamin packet, soy protein, and beans have been scooped into each bag by other church members helping along the line. By the time you finish, you and those around you will have packed 45 boxes of those bags, containing 10,000 meals to be distributed to local shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries.
This—or something much like it—was the experience shared by over 100 volunteers from 26 churches and ministries across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island on June 20, the last Sabbath of the Southern New England Conference (SNEC) camp meeting. This event was a collaboration between Compassion Boston and an outside organization called Outreach, with the goal of packaging 10,000 meals for Boston’s food insecure population. Outreach representative JeanMarie Galiette described it this way:
“Not everybody’s starving on the streets in Massachusetts, but there are people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Or, they have to decide sometimes between buying food and paying the rent.” In America, one out of every six people is food insecure, Galiette said. Events like this one help to alleviate some of that need, and are especially important in the summer when schools aren’t providing free or reduced lunches to children.
“Oh, this is a terrific event,” said Sandra Hinds, a member at the Boston Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church. “At one point when I was bagging, I was praying for each little spice pack that I put in, that God would bless the person that’s going to eat that. It’s terrific to see a lot of people out and helping.”
“I feel great,” said another woman, “I’m helping. I was hungry a long time ago, so I want to help.”
Besides SNEC church members, Julia Bellman—the conference’s new Literature Evangelism Coordinator—brought this summer’s troupe of canvassers to help. “This is our very first summer canvassing program. We’re going to be focusing on the greater Boston area. We’ll be knocking on doors, meeting people on the streets, sharing with them the gospel through literature, but in addition to just canvassing, we also want to participate as much as possible in community outreach initiatives. When I knew that they were going to be doing this food preparation for the shelters and food pantries, I was very excited at the opportunity to bring the canvassers to experience this.”
Miguel, a student at Hartland College in Virginia and a member of the literature evangelism team, was thrilled about the event. While canvassing, the group has been asking for any spare change to help raise money for this food project. “I am in awe just to see how many people are here collaborating to help so many people out there! Julia has calculated how many people are in Boston, and the 10 or 13 of us are not going to be able to reach that many people in 10 weeks. But perhaps this is another way that we can reach more people. So I’m excited about this.”
Bellman plans to partner with Compassion Boston as much as possible throughout the summer in community outreach events like this one. “It’s our privilege,” she said. “We want the program to be as spiritually edifying and physically rewarding for the kids as possible, but also to reach people with the gospel of peace. Because Jesus fed people. Jesus healed people. And then he taught them.”
Outreach has worked with over 100 groups—church groups, Rotary Clubs, schools, businesses, even the Miami Dolphins—to put on events like this all over the country. Outreach is a broad ministry, providing food, water, education and medical attention to those in need both in the States an internationally, though this event was part of Outreach’s End Hunger Northeast initiative, which keeps the food local. “Each meal that’s packaged stays right in the county where it’s packaged, so you’re helping your next door neighbors, the folks you walk down the hall with at school or at work. Because you never know. The face of hunger doesn’t have one look to it.” Given Compassion Boston’s aim of showing Jesus’ love by meeting real and felt needs in the greater Boston area, the collaboration was a natural fit.
Here’s how it works: Outreach provides the event coordinator, the training, the dry ingredients, and the packaging equipment and supplies (bags, boxes, scoops, scales, labels). The co-sponsoring organization provides the venue, the people power, and 25 cents per meal. One dollar can feed a family of four. A table of 12 volunteers can package roughly 2,000 meals in an hour. After the event, the co-sponsoring organization is responsible for the distribution of the food boxes (each of which contains about 216 meals).
Outreach provided Compassion Boston with a list of local food pantries, and the 10,000 meals were distributed to the Roslindale Congregational Church, Boston Red Cross, Jamaica Plain APAC, and Allston Brighton food pantries—all in and around the city—as well as the Bread of Life food pantry run by the Village Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lancaster. “Many food pantries expressed that, in the last few years, the demand for food in their pantries has increased,” said April Montoya, SNEC Assistant Trust Director who organized the food packaging event with Outreach. “The amount of food that was needed in a week years ago is now given out in a day. More and more families are turning to food pantries to provide nutritious food for them.” Compassion Boston hopes to work with these pantries again in the future.
Tom Murray, who’s been functioning as SNEC Project Manager for Compassion Boston, got very positive responses to the food packaging event from SNEC church members at camp meeting, and plans to do the event again next year. “It was well organized on the part of Outreach. It’s something I want to do again. We’d like to double the size next year. We saw this year that we had plenty of volunteers, plenty of people willing to help. While we were doing it, I was out talking to people on the camp grounds—‘Do you like this idea? Is this something you’d like to do again? Would you help next year?’ I got very, very positive responses about that. So I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing it again. We like the event.”
Montoya and Murray highly recommend Outreach’s food packaging event to other church groups. “Outreach has a wonderful team of workers who have so much passion for this ministry,” said Montoya, “you can’t help but want to be a part of this movement, helping to end hunger right here in our very own neighborhoods. Outreach works with many different organizations and church groups. This was their first event with a Seventh-day Adventist group, and I hope this is just the start of events we can partner with them on.”
When we think of hunger, Montoya reflected, “Many of us tend to think of world hunger. The reality is, though, that we don’t have to go far to meet those not knowing where their next meal will come from. Hunger is right here, staring right at us—in our homes and our neighbors’ homes. In this year alone, Outreach has made more than 3 million meals, and we are now a part of this figure. All of our volunteers personally put food on the table for Boston families—10,000 meals, to be exact. There is no better feeling than to serve how Jesus would have us serve. When people receive these meals, I hope they feel Jesus’ love supplying for their need.”