Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect the correct numbers for the 2010 event.
The holiday season is a time that many observe through faith and charitable service. More than 2,000 people will do just that this weekend as part of the Feed My Starving Children MobilePack event, organized by La Croix United Methodist Church.
Last year, more than 2,000 volunteers from La Croix filled the Arena Building and packed more than 500,000 meals. This year, the church's fourth to participate, La Croix has signed up 2,600 volunteers to pack more than 600,000 meals.
Packing begins at 10 a.m. Friday at the Shawnee Park Center on West End Boulevard and continues Saturday and Sunday. Work will be done in two-hour shifts.
"This is a real, tangible way to make a difference," said Linda Watts, event coordinator. "God calls us to be his hands and feet."
This year, all the food will go to Haiti. Meals contain all the essential nutrients for a day and are tailored for their specific locations. According to Watts most of the money Feed My Starving Children receives goes to humanitarian and missions organizations that are on the ground and working with schools, orphanages, day cares and more. Last year, La Croix sent missions teams to Guatemala, Haiti and Africa, where they saw food from the group go to the children.
Aside from preparation, funds must also be raised to ship the food. According to Watts, the meals cost 24 cents each. The total cost to ship the packed meals is $144,000. Other churches, schools, families and organizations from the area have come on board to help with the fundraising and to volunteer. Volunteer positions are full, but Watts said anyone who wants to see the work or donate to the cause can stop by. She described the work environment as being a "room full of joy and a lot of fun."
"This is such an amazing, awesome program," volunteer Linda Tenkhoff said. "There's a great feeling knowing you've fed someone for a day. God calls us to feed the hungry, and this is one way to do that and make a difference."
Watts said La Croix's involvement with Feed My Starving Children began when her husband, senior pastor Ron Watts, saw a presentation at a pastors conference.
"This was too good to pass up," Linda Watts said. "This is a simple and inexpensive way to make a difference. We are involved locally, and we're called to help across the world. Eighteen million die every year because they don't have enough food."
Feed My Starving Children is a faith-based charity that strives to feed children and eliminate starvation by instilling compassion. It is run by volunteers and based in Minnesota with locations in Illinois, Minnesota and Arizona.
The organization was started in 1987 by a Minnesota businessman who saw the need to feed starving children in the world after he took a humanitarian trip to Honduras. Feed My Starving Children has provided more than 124 million meals to children in nearly 70 countries throughout the world. It distributes to places that have prolonged economic despair, natural disaster areas and other areas in need.
La Croix has also connected Feed My Starving Children with other local organizations. Members of La Croix have been involved with Heart for Africa, a mission organization that does HIV/AIDS relief in Swaziland, Africa. Due to efforts of La Croix's members, Feed My Starving Children now sends food to places where Heart for Africa works. Watts also said they have helped other area churches learn about and partner with Feed My Starving Children.
"This takes the focus off of us and puts it on Christ," Watts said. "This has become the highlight of the Christmas season for our family and church."