There is really no way to describe the joy, love, and faith that poured out of the 1,200 or so volunteers on the last shift for Woodbury’s Feed My Starving Children MobilePack event Sunday night. But if joy could be converted into energy, all the lights at Bielenberg Sports Center could have been turned off, and the place would have still glowed in the night.
A goal of packing 4 million meals to feed 11,000 children for a year was more than achieved. By the time the last meal pack was sealed, the volunteers who participated in the four-day event had packed 18,825 boxes -- boxes that were filled with 4,066,200 meals to feed 11,140 children.
Organizers of Woodbury’s first Feed My Starving Children MobilePack event knew the goal was aggressive. But they also knew it was possible. Going into the last shift, they knew they were close. Up to that point, volunteers had packed 3,794,256 meals, and had only 205,744 to go.
A sheet of paper with the totals also had a few words of faith scrawled here and there:
“We can do this!”
“Piece of cake!”
“Thank you, Lord God!”
As the sea of volunteers, all sporting white hairnets, gathered for the opening instructions of the last shift, FMSC’s Dave Gunnlaugsson shared his optimism with everyone in the room.
“You will be the group to cross us over the finish line,” Gunnlaugsson told them.
A community effort
Woodbury’s first Feed My Starving Children MobilePack event took the better part of a year to plan. As a MobilePack coordinator, Gunnlaugsson worked with co-chairwomen Nikki Robbins and Lisa Engh, and a whole committee of folks from around the community.
The event started quietly last Wednesday evening, when a group of about 30 residents, committee members, and area clergy gathered at Bielenberg Sports Center for a prayer walk. They prayed over the tables, they prayed over the food, and they prayed for the thousands of volunteers who would come through in the following days.
But by Thursday morning, the sports center was alive with energy. On the first day, Feed My Starving Children Executive Director Mark Crea was on hand that first day to welcome volunteers and thank the community for the work it was about to do.
Volunteers for Feed My Starving Children make food packets called MannaPacks. The packs contain dehydrated vegetables, vitamins, soy and rice. The MannaPacks are packed into boxes, with 36 packs in each, that are shipped to impoverished areas around the world.
“This food is going to Nicaragua, a place where people don’t have hope at all,” Crea said, “and this is going to give them that hope.”
Woodbury’s MobilePack event is the biggest of its kind, ever organized by Feed My Starving Children, he added.
“We’re going to save a lot of children,” Crea told volunteers.
Tens of thousands of volunteers were scheduled during four shifts a day from Thursday through Sunday. While many of them were members of Woodbury’s community, others came from around the metro area to help in the effort, as well. There were youth groups, there were families. Sports teams, co-workers. And some folks just came, on their own, to help.
“For me, as mayor, I think this was a great opportunity to bring the community together,” Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens said. “In the time I was here, I don’t think there was a pocket of Woodbury that wasn’t here.”
Crossing the line
The excitement seemed to build Sunday night, as everyone at BSC knew Woodbury was about to reach its goal of packing 4 million meals. As boxes were filled, and the boxes filled pallets, volunteers laughed and joked and danced to the music playing overhead.
With five pallets left to go -- each pallet containing 36 boxes of MannaPacks -- Gunnlaugsson shouted out words of encouragement.
“Thirty minutes left,” he told volunteers. “Give it all you got. Here we go!”
It was just 10 minutes later when he told everyone to stop, step away from their stations, and give up a cheer because Woodbury had, in fact, packed its 4 millionth meal.
There were cheers, tears and hugs as the box that contained that goal-making meal was brought up to the stage. People everywhere danced and gave high fives while Kool and the Gang’s song “Celebration” blared out over the sound system.
After a few minutes, though, the volunteers were back to work, trying to make as many more meals as they could in the remaining 20 minutes.
“I think God is amazing,” Robbins said as the event wrapped up.
While Engh handled the logistics for the packing part of the Feed My Starving Children event, Robbins is working on the fundraising side. Now that the food is packed, she’s hoping the generosity will continue, so that the food can be paid for.
It will cost about $880,000 to cover the cost of the food that was packed during the event. And while quite a bit of that has already been raised, Robbins has faith that the rest will come in the following days.
“Jesus wants his children fed and he’ll take care of that need,” she said.
Robbins thanked all of the volunteers, the donors, and the folks who helped to plan Woodbury’s Feed My Starving Children MobilePack event. Without them, she said, the event could not have been a success.
“This community is so generous, I’m not surprised we reached our goal, but I am in complete awe of what we did over the past four days,” she said.
Donations to cover the cost of food continue to be accepted on the Feed My Starving Children website. Visit fmsc.org/mobilepack/events, and search for the Woodbury event to make a donation.