They asked for 325 volunteers to assemble meals, but almost 500 arrived on Saturday morning to help feed the disadvantaged.
The Marco Island Rotary clubs and Kids Against Hunger of Southwest Florida called on other local organizations, individuals and families to assemble 100,000 meals and raise $15,000. With a larger turnout of volunteers, they exceeded that, packing 114,552 fortified casseroles in two hours and raising more than $16,000.
“I was hopeful but surprised,” said Wayne Purvis, treasurer of the Marco Island Sunrise Rotary Club and event organizer, of the results from Saturday’s event. “This year we got much more than expected. It just shows how much residents here in Marco care.”
Volunteers piled into the Marco Island Charter Middle School’s large gymnasium. Young and old stood side-by-side along tables, packing meals assembly-line-style. Music from Michael Jackson and Smash Mouth blasted through loud speakers to keep up energy levels.
Each volunteer had a task in the process. At the head of the table, some dropped cups of rice, beans and dried vegetables through a funnel into plastic bags. Then, they added powdered vitamins, minerals and chicken flavoring. Towards the end, bags were sealed, counted and packed into boxes. The volunteers cheered and clapped loudly as each box was completed.
“It’s obviously a fun time, a great way to help others and an opportunity to show my daughter this type of experience,” said Renee Maile, a Marco resident who brought her young daughter, Morgan, to the event.
In addition to the fortified rice, beans and vegetable mixture, volunteers prepared fortified macaroni and cheese casseroles. Those contained macaroni, soy protein, cheese sauce, vitamins and minerals.
Each meal cost 16 cents and feeds four to six people. The food has a three year shelf life, but Steven Popper, the executive director of Kids Against Hunger of Southwest Florida, said it will not last that long.
“The need for food is as great as it was a couple years ago,” Popper said, “The meals go out as soon as they come in.”
Thirteen-year-old, Victoria Zelner, saw a flyer posted at her school and rode her bike from home by herself to participate.
“I know that there are people that are not as lucky as I am,” said Zelner as she taped boxes full of pre-packaged bags, “I want to do anything I can to help those people.”
Students from the Lely High School National Honor Society also came to help. The all-girl group who donned hair nets lined an entire table.
“It’s important for young people to help,” said Rachal Hausin, 16, while she scooped beans into plastic bags. “It sets an example for others to do the same thing and gets more young people in that mind-set.”
Once the boxes were completed, they were loaded onto trucks bound for the Harry Chapin Food Bank. The organization will send the food to different agencies in Southwest Florida. Much of it is earmarked for public schools in the region. Parents can get the meals by contacting their school’s office.
“Sixty percent of the kids in public schools are on free or reduced lunch,” said Popper while he directed a group of volunteers moving boxes. “Kids are fed during school days. But what about the weekends?”
“Due in part to the people around me, students and their families will not go hungry.”