Empowering kids, adults to help starving children in Africa - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Empowering kids, adults to help starving children in Africa

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Michelle Reese covers education for the Tribune and blogs about motherhood and family issues at http://blogs.evtrib.com/evmoms. Contact her at mreese@evtrib.com

Michelle Reese covered education for the Tribune, also blogging about motherhood and family issues at http://blogs.evtrib.com/evmoms.

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2012 1:19 pm | Updated: 3:34 pm, Tue Aug 20, 2013.

Before last month, I’d never heard about Feed My Starving Children, a nonprofit, Christian organization.

I didn’t know about the group’s efforts to send food to hungry children in more than 70 countries.

I wasn’t aware of the efforts it took to create a proper meal to feed someone who rarely eats food, but who fills a hungry belly with rocks.

And until this month, I didn’t know about the volunteer effort to get that necessary food around the world. That’s what brought me and a group of women from my church to Feed My Starving Children’s Tempe packing center two weeks ago.

For an hour and a half, we poured, measured, bagged, sealed and boxed the rice, soy, vegetables and vegetarian-based chicken flavoring that go into every six-meal package.

But how the Minnesota-based nonprofit organization came to be in Tempe is truly the story of people making a difference.

It started with the Skinner family in Ahwatukee Foothills. A few years ago, Dennis and Janine Skinner and their three children attended a youth activity where a short film about Feed My Starving Children was shown.

So intrigued was Janine and her family after seeing the documentary that they decided to volunteer.

But at the time, the nonprofit didn’t have an East Valley location. In fact, it didn’t even have an Arizona location.

So the family packed their bags and traveled more than 1,700 miles to Minnesota to help and learn more during a vacation.

The Skinners hoped to bring a mobile packing event to Esperanza Lutheran Church in the Ahwatukee. It would take a commitment to raise the necessary $15,000 — money to pay for the food. But first, the Skinners wanted first-hand knowledge about what takes place during a packing session.

Once they did it, they were hooked.

Janine quit her part-time job to organize the church’s weekend volunteer project. Feed My Starving Children brought all the supplies necessary to create 100,000 meals.

Hundreds of volunteers arrived. Before it was over, many were asking when the next event would be held.

From that grass-roots effort, Feed My Starving Children was convinced to bring a temporary facility to Tempe where volunteers could come nine times a week to pack meals. Late last year, the nonprofit’s board voted to make Tempe the sixth permanent packing site for the organization.

Just this month the Tempe location added more packing times each week to accommodate the interest from the community. Now, individuals and families with children as young as 5 can come help 21 times a week.

“I think it’s critical to capture them young. By far it’s the best thing we’ve done. My mission is to plant that seed to create the next generation of volunteers in this community,” said Janine, who was hired as the site supervisor in Tempe.

The Tempe center’s goal this fiscal year, which began March 1, is to prepare 9 million meals. Though Feed My Starving Children helps kids in more than 70 countries, most of the meals from the Tempe location go to the Philippines, Skinner said.

Volunteers are asked — but not required — to prayerfully consider donating $50, enough to pay for one box of food.

During spring break, when my group was there, there were at least a dozen kids packing alongside us.

“It makes them feel good. They feel empowered to make the world a better place,” Janine said. ”Kids feeding kids. That’s huge. It’s one of the most important gifts we can give our kids.”

One boy was there to celebrate his birthday with his family. A young woman next to me volunteers once a month. It’s not uncommon for family groups to come in on a regular basis, Janine said.

A few months ago, a newlywed couple brought their entire wedding party, several guests and their families to Feed My Starving Children the morning after their wedding.

They even donned their wedding attire.

I’ve thought about taking my two big kids — ages 7 and 9. When I started to tell my son, the eldest, about it, he started rattling off all this information he knew about hungry children in Africa.

I didn’t even know he was aware of such situations. As soon as I started talking, I made a mental note to plan a few visits there this summer.

I think we’ll be hooked as well.

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