Six years ago, Janine Skinner was a mother of three who was reentering the workforce. Some of the return was financial: the aforementioned kids were just a few years away from college. While serving as a youth event chaperone, she was introduced to Minnesota-based Feed My Starving Children (FMSC). That was the beginning of a six-year whirlwind.
“We were always looking for things that would help shape our kids’ world view,” she said. “We wanted them to know that just because they happened to be born here, they were the lucky ones.” Having heard and read the nightmare stories of corruption in charitable organizations, the Skinner family did some research and went to Minnesota to check FMSC out in person.
April 12-13, Feed My Starving Children will host a Valleywide packing event at the Phoenix Convention Center, called “Change the World from Phoenix.” The goal is ambitious: bring 5000 volunteers together to pack a million meals in 24 hours while raising $1 million to open a second packing site here in the Valley that will provide nutritious meals for 70,000 children per day. The goal is ambitious, but for Skinner it has always been a leap of faith.
With her husband, Dennis, and their children, the Skinners first coordinated “mobile-pack events” in Valley congregations. The dream was to have a FMSC packing site here, the first in the West. When warehouse space was donated, the push was on. The challenge was to demonstrate that the Tempe site could be self-sustaining. By being very intentional about asking volunteers to also raise the funds for the food they were packing the Arizona volunteers donated at a rate higher than all other sites. “We want owners,” Skinner said, “not just participants.”
Among the regular donors are seventh-graders at Kyrene Altadeña Middle School. For five years, FMSC has been a major project, each year they have raised between $12,000 and $14,000 for the food they pack. “I get more questions from middle school students than anyone about how to make a difference. I tell them to find something they are passionate about and then get involved.”
Such advice does indeed seem to be making a difference. In the Philippines, a major destination for meals packed at the Tempe site, 48 feeding locations have been closed because by easing the urgent need for food, resources can be diverted to other problems that contribute to the cycle of poverty that perpetuates starvation. Minus the immediacy of starvation, economic resources can be developed that provide for the long-term sustainability of communities. In turn, the food that had been going to those 48 locations has now been diverted to other areas in the Philippines where the need remains urgent.
According to the United Nations, in 2007 it was estimated that 18,000 children under the age of 5 died each day from hunger-related problems. In the most recent study conducted this year that number has been cut by two-thirds. The need continues to be urgent, but the problem is not insurmountable, and the statistics tell us that we are making progress. The world still produces sufficient food to feed every person; supply is not the problem, justice and distribution continue to be the real challenges.
Six years ago, Janine Skinner wasn’t really looking to have her life changed in such a dramatic way, but sometimes that is how it goes. She said, “If everyone gave out of their abundance, just imagine how it would change the world.” It certainly has changed hers.
For more information on Feed My Starving Children and the “Change the World from Phoenix” event, go to www.FMSC.org.
• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.