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Fighting hunger in the open air – Meals of Hope packaging event moves outdoors

Lance Shearer
Eagle Correspondent

The coronavirus handed Meals of Hope a dilemma. The economic disruption caused by the pandemic has greatly increased the number of people without jobs, and often therefore without the ability to put food on the table. At the same time, the invisible, highly contagious disease has impacted the signature Meals of Hope food packaging event, with people crowded together assembling meals assembly line style.

Saturday morning at the YMCA “air-nasium,” hundreds of volunteers showed how they could adapt to the challenging circumstances. The event, which has been held for years in the gym at Marco Island Charter Middle School, was moved outdoors. Tables were spaced farther apart, the number of members in each team cut down, and each participant was temperature-checked, masked and gloved, along with the hairnets that hatless volunteers have always worn.

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In a few hours on a beautiful, breezy morning, nearly 300 volunteers put together more than 123,000 meals to help feed the hungry, said local attorney and Marco Island Meals of Hope chair Bill “Capt. Happy Hope” Morris. Meals of Hope trucks backed up to the covered, open air-nasium at the Y’s Sandhill St. campus were steadily filled up with boxes of food, as the high-energy crews assembled the meals.

The event was dedicated to Wayne Purvis, who was instrumental in originally bringing Meals of Hope to Marco Island, and died in March. Susan Purvis, his wife, addressed the crowd, thanking them for their efforts and saying how proud Wayne would have been of their work. She spoke over the sound setup of DJ Kevin Fitzgerald, who kept the tunes cranking and announced milestones in the process.

Along with Wayne Purvis, Southwest Florida icon Henry Ford would have been proud, too. The volunteers at the food packaging event showed the power of assembly line production techniques, with each individual’s task contributing a small piece of the overall effort. This, plus the enthusiasm of hundreds of volunteers working to achieve a goal, is what makes it possible to get so much done in a short period of time, said Steve Popper, founder of Meals of Hope. After beginning in Naples, his organization has gone national, and conducted 164 meal packaging events all over the country last year.

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Many groups brought multiple volunteers, and a number of people who typically have come out but wanted to stay away from crowds donated funds instead, said Morris. Along with Marco’s Kiwanis and two Rotary clubs, who took on the project as a joint effort, groups from Marco Island Academy, MICMS, Wesley United Methodist Church, Capri Christian Church, the Marco Island Nature Preserve, Aqua Gals, Sotheby’s, Treviso Bay, America’s Boating Club, and Al’s Pals all helped out. F Troop from the Island Country Club, said Morris, was the largest single financial donor.

Meals of Hope has a variety of different meals, and with its connections and bulk purchasing power, is able to stretch donated dollars greatly. The fortified pasta with tomato sauce meal packed on Saturday is provided at just 20 cents per meal, said Popper.

“It’s like a meal and a multi-vitamin together,” said Morris, with a long list of vitamin and mineral supplements listed on the package, with each bag containing six meals. The food also has a two-year shelf life, although, with the thousands of hungry folks in Southwest Florida, that is unlikely to come into play.

For more information, or to make a donation to Meals of Hope, a 501(c)3 charity, go online to www.mealsofhope.org.