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Church members count blessings, ounces as they package meals for children in Africa

Published: Thursday, Nov. 22 2012 1:57 p.m. MST

Josiah Kligmann, 7, helps make packets of fortified rice-soy casserole as members of K2 the Church pack meals for 45,000 children in Swaziland in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Torey Cook is focused.

Plastic cup in hand, the 9-year-old has been charged with scooping rice into individual, meal-sized plastic bags. He thinks the work is fun, and he knows the food will help those less fortunate than himself.

"It's going to the poor people so they can have Thanksgiving, too," he said.

Torey's mother, Misti Turner, said her family — including her three children — came to K2 the Church on Thanksgiving Day to instill in her children the importance of giving back and giving thanks.

From 8 a.m. until noon, volunteers took shifts of just over an hour packing meals for needy children in Africa. If Torey had his way, the family would stay the entire time.

"Torey grasps the concept," Turner said. "He knows the faster he goes, the more kids get to eat."

Since 2009, the church has worked with Kids Against Hunger to provide 45,000 meals each month to malnourished children and their families around the world, Melodie Anderson said. She heard about the organization in 2009 and talked to others at the church until "we decided to take it on."

And they have, with church congregants and other donors coming up with the $8,000 it costs to buy the meals each month.

"It's a good day," Anderson said Thursday. "It's a good day to fellowship. Just because it's Thanksgiving is not why people are happy. People like doing this."

But the holiday did come with an influx of volunteers. In fact, they almost had more than they could handle.

"We're overbooked," Anderson said while trying to find tasks for all those eager to help.

The food has gone to Haiti, the Philippines and Honduras. These meals are bound for Swaziland.

Most times, the meals are packed into boxes, loaded onto trucks and shipped to their in-country partners. But sometimes, the volunteers will get to deliver them themselves.

"When we went and distributed food in the Philippines, some of those kids would walk 5-10 miles," Anderson said. "These little kids would find whatever they could to put these meals in. It's an impactful things to see that happen."

Lead Pastor Dave Nelson will travel to Swaziland in January, and a group of congregants plan to go next summer and deliver the meals. The church's members have also sponsored more than 200 children there, with every available child being claimed.

"They've shown me over and over again that if we provide the opportunity to serve, they'll come and fill it up," Nelson said. "It's just so encouraging."

Nelson is sponsoring a boy named Beketele whose photo is on the family's refrigerator. They come to package the food almost every month, but the three months when they've been doing so knowing it will go to Beketele have been special.

"Now we know we're packing food that kids we sponsor will eat," he said. "That grabs your heart more."

Compound that with the added spirit of Thanksgiving and there's an explanation for all the smiling, friendly faces.

"I think that's what Thanksgiving does," Nelson said. "You stop and go, 'You know, I've got it really good.' It really opens up people's hearts when you're thinking about the good you do have."

While there were ample participants for the holiday, Anderson said there is a "core group" that comes every month. That includes Robert Ramos. He's been at the church almost as long they started working with Kids Against Hunger.

"(I come) to show my gratitude for the blessings I have in my life and to help those who don't have the same privileges," Ramos said. "It's Thanksgiving, of course, and I give thanks every day, but this is the day we all get around the table and feast on good food with family and friends. There are those who don't have that opportunity, even one day out of the year."

But it's deeper than that, too. A native of Hawaii, Ramos said he came to Utah more than a decade ago and "got mixed up in the wrong crowd." He was involved with gangs and selling drugs and was homeless for a time.

"God turned my life around three years ago, and I'm not turning back," he said. "I've met some incredible people here, and I do stuff like this to keep me grounded and remind me of what I should be grateful for.

"I know what it's like to be hungry, so if I can make someone not hungry, even for just one meal, that's worth it."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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