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Meals from the Heartland

Creston couples package meals to help nourish thousands

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 10:48 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 10:56 a.m. CDT
(Contributed photo)
Sealed packages are prepped for packaging at the annual Hunger Fight in Des Moines. Meals for the Heartland volunteers packaged 5,171,040 meals during the four-day event.

What can you accomplish in only two hours?

Watching a televised NFL game takes a little more than three hours. Cooking a rack of ribs takes a minimum of two and a half to three hours. The average time to paint a 15x15 room is four to six hours.

But what Dennis Kuyper, his wife Barb and three other Crestonian couples chose to do for two hours changed the lives of 5,400 people.

The group volunteered for a shift at Meals from the Heartland, boxing food packages to help combat world hunger.

“I saw it on TV about five years ago and thought it was a really good idea,” Dennis Kuyper said. “Then three years ago, I told my wife we have to get involved with this.”

This is the third year the Kuypers have attended the annual Hunger Fight, recruiting more couples to join them each year.

Joining the effort this year was Weldon and Sharon Sander, Jim and Judy Oshel, and Roger and Sharon Sorensen.

More than 15,000 volunteers flooded the four-day event Aug. 28-31 at HyVee Hall in Des Moines and packaged more than 5 million meals.

Kuyper’s group completed 25 boxes. Each box contains 36 packages and each package can feed six people.

“We packaged meals for two hours as a way to help pay it forward,” Kuyper said. “We have so much, and so much to be thankful for. It was a simple, but effective way to give back.”

Kuyper said the process moves like an assembly line. The food is added to a plastic package, passed on to be weighed and once it meets the weight requirement, the package is sealed and boxed.

How it started

In 2007, a West Des Moines church organized a food drive during the Lent season. The success of the event encouraged leaders to organize a communitywide event.

At the first Fight Hunger event, more than 12,000 volunteers banned together to send out four million meals.

Each package contains rice, soy protein, vitamin powder and dried vegetables — carrot, onion, tomato, celery, cabbage and bell pepper.

In order to ship, each package is restricted to a specific weight — 390-393 grams — before it can be boxed. The meals are prepared in boiling water for 20 minutes.

“There are volunteers that come in from other states, and you see people of all ages helping,” Kuyper said.

The annual Fight Hunger drive has grow each year since 2008. Meals from the Heartland has also expanded the program to a full-time effort.

Mobile Hunger Fights travel around the Midwest to schools and churches for one-day events.

Becky McWilliams, communications assistant for Meals from the Heartland, said groups that want to sponsor a mobile event must provide or raise the funds for packaging and food ingredients.

Sponsorship for one meal is 20 cents, so to package 10,000 meals, a group would need to raise $2,000.

Global effort

Meals from the Heartland partners with the Food Bank of Iowa, Des Moines Area Religious Council, Convoy of Hope (Missouri) and Blessman Ministries (South Africa).

In 2012, Iowa used 376,388 meals to help feed Iowans in need of assistance. A community in Gallup, N.M., received 286,200 meals to help area residence.

Globally, more than seven million meals went to South America and Africa, as well as disaster relief in Haiti. Meals from the Heartland gives an average 15,000 people nourishing food each day.

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