Salt Lake volunteers package 5,000 meals for typhoon victims

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 12 2013 9:20 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — As Melinda Overman poured a scoop of dried vegetables into the food packet she was helping fill, she pictured the devastation in the typhoon-ravaged islands of the Philippines.

"I'm just glad that I can be of help. As insignificant as I might feel my help is, I can contribute," Overman said Tuesday, watching as soy protein, rice and a dissolvable vitamin packet joined the vegetables in the bag.

Moments later a gong rang out, signaling that 1,000 food packets had been filled, each of which will eventually feed six people. Cheers erupted throughout the room.

By the end of the night, the approximately 50 volunteers had prepared, sealed and boxed up more than 5,000 food packets for the Stop Hunger Now program, a South Carolina-based nonprofit that targets global hunger.

The group reserves 10 percent of its food stock annually for natural disaster response and has pledged to send 1 million meals to the starving and desperate people left in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. The first shipment of more than 250,000 meals is tentatively scheduled to leave California on Wednesday.

Overman and her husband, Scott, of Holladay, had been planning to attend Tuesday's food packing event for several weeks to learn more about Stop Hunger Now's efforts to combat chronic hunger around the world and its recently organized Salt Lake City extension.

David Fairall, who was tasked with adding the vitamin packet and holding each bag as it was filled, said he was especially grateful for the opportunity to volunteer in light of the storm.

"My wife was just saying to me today she has been reading a lot about the Philippines and said, 'We should really do something for them,'" said Fairall, a Salt Lake City resident. "When (organizers) said this was going to directly affect those people and was going to go to those people, it definitely feels like there's more meaning behind this now."

As the group worked, Fairall marvelled that the small packet contained just a few simple items and took moments to assemble but would feed several people, whether in the Philippines or one of Stop Hunger Now's established school nutrition programs.

"It takes three seconds, and we're getting these meals ready," Fairall said.

"We've probably fed 100 people already with just our little group," Scott Overman responded, adding rice to the packet.

Stop Hunger Now reports it costs only 25 cents for each person it feeds, many of whom are children who get the meals from their schools. The meals, in turn, encourage children to stay in class.

Regional Director Mickey Horner said many people first come across the Stop Hunger Now program as they look for ways to donate to disaster relief. The organization provided more than 5 million meals and 400 tons of aid following the deadly earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010.

"When things like this happen, we really do see an influx of people wanting to package and help," Horner said. "That's one of the ways our program is a really nice fit, because you don't have to get on a plane and go to the Philippines to effect change. It's in your backyard."

Horner hopes orientation events like Tuesday's packing project will be the first of many in Utah as people learn about Stop Hunger Now and the full scope of the organization's mission.

The Overmans said they intend to be among those who continue supporting the organization.

"Too many organizations spend too much money making a profit off of these kinds of things. It's hard to know good ones to support," said Scott Overman, who learned about the program from a friend. "When he told me about this and told me how they worked, right down to the fact that we were going to be helping to do the actual packaging, we really got excited about it."

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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