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Meals for a Million event seeks volunteers to help put a dent in local hunger

Volunteers filling food packets

Volunteers are needed to help fill a million food packets on Aug. 26-27 at the Family Arena.

Sam Rowley and a small group of volunteers have been helping battle hunger in Central America. Now they want to do the same at home and are inviting others in the St. Louis community to join them.

Rowley, president of R&A Contracting in St. Peters, and Beraka Ministries, a 501[c][3] charitable organization he helped found, are looking for more than a few good men and women – 5,500 would be nice – to help with assembling meal packets and holding a food drive they hope will become an annual event.

The “Meals for a Million” event is set for Aug. 26-27 at the St. Charles Family Arena, 2002 Arena Parkway. Organizers hope to package one million dried, non-perishable meals as well as collect food items to be distributed to hungry people in the St. Louis area by charitable organizations and food pantries.

Packaged meals have become a popular and efficient way to address hunger throughout the world. Unlike cans and other food products that sometimes lack nutritional value and are bulky and difficult to use, the packets provide a lot of bang for the limited amount of bucks available.

The meal packets are a study in simplicity and efficiency. Nine- to 13-ounce sealed packets of rice and beans or oatmeal, along with formulas of vitamins and minerals, are hand-mixed by volunteers in an assembly line fashion. The raw ingredients and proprietary formulas often are supplied by nonprofits or food processors.

“The neat thing about these packs is that they have everything you need mineral and vitamin-wise,” Rowley said. “When you go into areas where people are hungry and don’t have food most of the time, the nutrition is terrible. This has everything in it that you could imagine, and it is very filling.”

Add water and some simple cooking and each bag can feed as many as six people. “It tastes good,” Rowley said.

The packing events also are fun for volunteers who can range from church groups to students to company employees involved in community outreach. Rowley said he has held a variety of charitable events including four packing activities that involved assembling as many as 14,000 packages in an hour and a half. Those packets were sent to Haiti, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

One close-by packing event has been held annually at Missouri State University to pack one million meals. “We began to ask why we can’t do that here,” Rowley said. “Let’s do it and keep the food right here in St. Louis.”

Rowley is hoping the event will help food pantries and agencies work together.

“Everybody’s always so separate when they do things,” he said. “This isn’t necessarily a church thing. This isn’t just secular, it’s everybody. We want to pull the community in and make it a community event where we all can work together. So now we can have the whole region getting together.”

The son of a missionary family, Rowley spent much of his youth in Ecuador. He’s worked in the St. Charles County area for 30 years and has a passion for giving back.

Bubba Anderson, director of operations at R&A Contracting, said, “I feel like God has blessed me with so much in my life that it’s time for me to give back. And this is a way I’ve found that I can easily give back.”

It’s a lot of work. Some details include recruiting volunteers, getting the food and formulas, finding a venue big enough, deciding where the food will go, handling details and finding the money to pay for it.

The St. Charles Family Arena was found, and Rowley has been actively working with organizations that can provide ingredients and packaging, and deal with managing the event. Outreach Inc., a nonprofit that organizes food packing events nationwide, is providing support.

But volunteers and potential donors still are needed and can sign up or obtain more information at www.mealsforamillion.com or by calling (636) 387-7557.

“Our cost is $165,000 but that doesn’t include shipping or processing,” Rowley said. “We have a budget of about $250,000.”

Sponsorships are available for corporations, organizations and even individuals, who can sponsor individual packing tables. Each table functions as an assembly line with 10 to 12 people working side-by-side. Each packing box can provide 240 meals, which cost Beraka Ministries about $35 to fill. For a $300 donation, a table provides 2,400 meals. Rowley said the donations are just recommended starting points and not set in stone – any help is appreciated.

Another need is volunteers. “That’s the big push we need to put out there, we need people,” Rowley said. He said organizers hope to have as many as 70 tables, with volunteers working brief one-and-a-half hour shifts.

Rowley said there won’t be any problem getting rid of the donations and packets that will come out of the event. “There is a long list of local organizations who have applied for the food,” he said.

“We cannot stamp out hunger, obviously, but we can put a big dent,” he said.

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