Thousands of meals packaged for Hurricane Dorian victims at Naples High School event

Jake Allen
Naples Daily News

Hundreds of energetic volunteers packaged thousands of ready-to-ship meals for the victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas inside the Naples High School cafeteria Saturday morning. 

Dorian left 43 people dead and 70,000 people homeless in the Bahamas, according to the United Nations. 

Thousands of homes were destroyed as Dorian — then a Category 5 hurricane — blasted northern parts of the archipelago.  

Kisha Petitdo, 16, left, and Janelle Bellot, 17, right, measure macaroni during a meal packing event at Naples High School on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Meals of Hope sponsored this meal packing event to benefit the victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.

Two organizations, Meals of Hope and Collier Harvest Foundation, worked together to organize the meal-packaging event at Naples High.

Stephen Popper, CEO and president of Meals of Hope, said about 500 volunteers packaged 135,000 meals for Hurricane Dorian victims on Saturday.  

The plan is to load up a container next week then ship the meals to the Bahamas, Popper said.  

More:Dorian devastated parts of the Bahamas. Here's how you can help

Groups of  10 volunteers were set up at tables where they packaged fortified bean and rice casserole or pasta with tomato sauce meals.  

“We picked those two meals because they are the easiest to prepare,” Popper said. “All you have to do is boil water then eat it.” 

The volunteers were trained on packaging the food by students from various groups at Naples High School, including Key Club and the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.  

Andres Rodriguez, a freshman at Naples High School and member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, was one of the student volunteers and said it was nice to see such a large group of people helping those in need.  

After witnessing the destruction of Hurricane Irma in Southwest Florida in 2017, Rodriguez said he wanted to help hurricane victims in the Bahamas.  

“I wanted to help here after Irma, but there really wasn't a way I could,” Rodriguez said. “I was impacted by Irma, and I know how it feels, so I just want to help the people in the Bahamas.” 

Jim Paradis, president of Collier Harvest Foundation, said it was heartwarming to see how many people volunteered to help with the event Saturday.  

“Everyone saw the photos of devastation from Dorian,” Paradis said. “It doesn't even look like people lived there. It looks like a bomb went off.” 

Dawn Silverman, secretary of the Collier Harvest Foundation, said many people in Southwest Florida have a connection to the Bahamas. 

"So many of us vacation there, know people there or have a home there, and it's so close to Florida that it really feels like part of our community,” Silverman said. 

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Not only do the packaged meals taste good, but they are also highly nutritious, Popper said.  

“They are getting all the protein content they need and almost all the vitamins and minerals they need with these meals,” Popper said.   

Stephen Popper, the chief executive officer and President of Meals of Hope, speaks during a meal packing event at Naples High School on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Meals of Hope sponsored this meal packing event to benefit the victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.

Steven Kissinger, Meals of Hope Chief Operating Officer, said three local rotary clubs in the Bahamas will help distribute the meals once they reach the islands.  

In two weeks, Meals of Hope plans to put on another meal-packaging event as many people showed up at the high school Saturday and were turned away because the cafeteria was already at capacity, Popper said. 

Details about Meals of Hope’s next meal-packaging event have yet to be announced, he said.  

“People just want to figure out a hands-on way to help,” Popper said. “When you see a storm like this it brings us back to Irma and the need we had here.”