Project bags 200,000 meals for Haiti

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Sunday, May 20, 2012
— Craig High School senior Courtney Stewart dumped scoop after scoop of chicken-flavored soy powder into plastic bags and pushed them down the line.

In went dehydrated carrots, onion, celery and long-grain rice, all as the hands of volunteers of all ages kept the bags moving along.

Next came the vacuum sealer. Then, by the dozen, the bags went into cardboard boxes that volunteers trundled out the door of the Craig High School fieldhouse and onto palettes that forklift operators loaded into a semi-tractor trailer.

Stewart and 400 other volunteers were filling food orders as part of a charity food drive Saturday labeled “Bag Haiti’s Hunger.” In the background, Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” played.

The fortified soy rice casserole that Stewart was helping pack is minus the meat Buffett celebrated, but each 14-ounce bag was fortified to supplement up to six meals.

Volunteers packed 200,000 meals. They’re all bound for Haiti, where nutritious food is in short supply in part because of high unemployment, rampant poverty and upheaval that stems from the massive earthquake that rocked the Caribbean island country in January 2010.

In Haiti, 75 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day, and nearly 70 percent of the population is unemployed or underemployed, according to Minneapolis, Minn.-based Kids Against Hunger, which sponsored the drive Saturday.

Stewart, 18, marveled at the turnout of people—students and adults—on hand to help fill bags and pack the boxes, which the U.S. Navy will transport to Haiti.

“Every little thing just adds up, a little thing here, and a little thing there,” Stewart said. “It adds up to this huge project.”

Stewart is a member of Craig High’s Amnesty International club. The group partnered in the event along with Rock County area Rotary clubs and Kids Against Hunger.

Stewart and about 25 other students have worked since earlier this year to raise money for the ongoing program, which was introduced in Rock County in 2008, officials at the event said.

It’s the biggest charity undertaking in Craig High School history, said Albert Elsen, a teacher at the high school who helped plan and coordinate the project along with Kids Against Hunger representative John Wong.

For Craig High senior and Amnesty International chapter President Ryan Prestil, it was a valuable learning experience.

Prestil, 17, said he’s worked on smaller charity projects before, but nothing with the scope of Saturday’s event.

“I never went out to a business and asked for checks of this magnitude,” he said. “I’ve asked for donations, but nothing like this.

“It was little intimidating at first, but you learn to come out of your shell,” he added. “For a lot of students it’s helping Haiti, but it’s also helping us.”

Rock County’s program is part of a network of more than 90 Kids Against Hunger groups nationwide. The group also donates palettes of food to local food pantries for people in need in Rock County, said local Rotary club member Dave Warren.

Students had hoped to raise $40,000 for the project Saturday—enough to buy and ship 280,000 meals to Haiti. The group ended up short of its goal, but it still managed to produce the second biggest drive in the history of Kids Against Hunger in Rock County.

Wong and Elsen both credited Janesville businesses—especially small businesses—for generously giving to the program, which they said boosted the project as Saturday’s drive approached.

Last updated: 8:19 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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