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Total team effort aids
area people in need

Story and Photo by Tom Degnitz

A cheese packet, noodles and soy proteins are the meal packer ingredients put together by an assembly line of volunteers.

In 1974, a Minnesota resident traveled to Honduras on a medical mission trip. While there, he witnessed children being fed “mud pies’’ – a mixture of sugar, butter and dirt – because that is all the families could afford.

Troubled by what he saw, he spent the next 20 years amassing a fortune and developing nutritionally-fortified macaroni-and-cheese packets, capable of feeding a whole family for pennies on the dollar.

What began as a project to feed the hungry in other parts of the world later expanded to the United States – and more recently, to the Sentinel’s coverage area.

The Stone Valley Beats Hunger Project, several weeks in the making, reached its climax April 5 at the Hickory Corners Fire Co. social hall, where hundreds of volunteers prepared an astounding 60,900 macaroni-and-cheese packets in an eight-hour period, well exceeding the original goal of 50,000.

The packets will be donated to food banks in a six-county region – which includes the counties in the Sentinel’s coverage area – providing nutritious meals to people who need it most.

Nearly 300 people donated their time to the team effort. They represented local Lutheran and United Church of Christ congregations, as well as a variety of other local service organizations and other faith-based groups.

‘‘Quite an accomplishment,’’ said Curtis Zemencik, pastor of the Stone Valley Parish (comprised of Zion Stone Valley UCC near Dalmatia and Salem UCC in Pillow). ‘‘Our volunteers should all be very proud of what we’ve been able to do on behalf of the hungry in our area.’’

An assembly-line process. The local event was coordinated by Outreach, Inc. According to Matthew Martin, the organization’s northeast region manager, each packet is five times as nutritious as store-bought macaroni and cheese and half as expensive to produce.

‘‘It contains 21 vitamins and minerals, soy proteins and noodles,’’ he explained. ‘‘Anyone can make it, because all you have to do is boil water, then mix the rest of thee ingredients.’’

Volunteers gathered at different tables to participate in a assembly-line process. What began as raw materials continued through the line to become a finished, sealed packet containing six individual meals, produced at a cost of $1.25. Each packet has a shelf life of two years.

Zemencik had first learned of the concept while reading an article about it at a church camp. He then attended a packaging event in Selinsgrove and shared the idea with his parish members.

Parish members also donated money. With additional donations from the public, they were able to purchase the ingredients to make the meals.

Coming in sixth. Nationally, Outreach Inc. has overseen the packaging of more than 248 million meals.  In its northeast region (which includes several states), five million meals have been packaged in the past three years with the help of 30,000 volunteers.

Of the 319 events overseen by Outreach in the past three years, Stone Valley Beats Hunger was sixth overall in the number of meals produced.

‘‘There already has been interest among our workers to do this again next year, with the hopes of having even bigger results,’’ Zemencik said.

Is reducing hunger in local communities a realistic goal?

As Martin puts it, ‘‘Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by those who are doing it.’’

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