Meals packed for Haiti & Eagle Butte!
One would think after ten years, reaching your goal would be easy, but it is never easy. One reason would be because our goal of packing 100,000 meals in 2005 has grown to 350,000 meals. More meals mean more volunteers, more donations, and more hours.
As my son so kindly pointed out, I spent just shy of a 24 hour day volunteering at the Pack-a-thon between Friday and Saturday alone. What he failed to mention is the number of other volunteers who were right there with me giving up close to an entire day to ensure every table was stocked, every sign was hung, every volunteer was attended to, and ensure that by the end of Saturday night, the only evidence that the Pack-a-thon occurred (aside from the chicken smell) were the semi beds filled with packed food sitting in the parking lot awaiting their departure Monday morning.
Every year, I get to a point where I think, "Why did we think we could do this?" Every year I am answered by over a thousand supporters who return to us year after year or walk through our doors for the very first time. They don their hairnets and get to work packing one bag at a time. I am answered by their amazing passion to serve others.
Every year, when I think we will not hit our goal, miraculously we do. There was the year the blizzard kept many packers away, but volunteers stayed late packing longer than their shifts to make up for it. There was the year we still needed over 400 volunteers within a week of the pack-a-thon. Ironically, word spread and we ended up with the most volunteers we have ever had. This year we had the opposite occur. Our shifts filled up a week before the event. Unfortunately, in the week that followed, many cancellations came through without nearly enough people to fill the gaps on our waiting list.
Friday night, Viktor and the Viking Cheerleaders kicked off our tenth annual pack-a-thon and we ended the night right on track. However, Saturday morning, we were down over 20 packers for the first shift, but I was only a little concerned. I knew we would fall behind, but I also knew the powerhouse of Peace Lutheran was coming to pack during the next shift. Both Peace Lutheran and the Minnetonka LaCrosse team brought extra people. We added tables, pulled out the old funnels and sealers and they were off scooping, weighing, and sealing like they could do it in their sleep. They made up the deficit from the morning and put us back on track.
It was near the end of the packing frenzy from this shift that we had a small miscount on the pallets. I was checking to see if I could put up 240,000 meals on our count and word came back that we were much further ahead than I thought. I could not believe in the packing madness I had missed a double stacked pallet going out, but they assured me the count was right. Instead of 240,000 meals, I was able to put up 260,000 meals! This put us way ahead of our pace and our goal was going to be so easy to make.
Shortly, after I hung 270,000 on our count, I was notified that they had double checked the pallet number after my inquiry by having a volunteer crawl gingerly along the tops of the double pallets in the semi to get an accurate count. Unfortunately, the result was we were not at 270,000 meals, but only 250,000 meals.
This was a huge blow. I was looking at a room with a number of young new packers. I love volunteering with the young packers. I love the empowered look to serve others form on their faces as they pack. I also know they do not pack quickly because they are learning and I would not have it any other way. I also knew Peace Lutheran was not going to come in and save the day. They had just left.
I like the count to be no lower than 300,000 going into the final shift. Fifty thousand meals is doable in a session. Sixty thousand meals is tough to pack in one session, but attainable. Only the rare sessions full of experienced packers can churn out anything above sixty thousand meals. We were not even to 290,000. I decided this was the year God was going to put the importance of children learning and serving above a number and I was okay with that. We would just have to figure out another way to make up the meals promised to our recipients.
However, somewhere in this long dialog, I think I mentioned what an amazing and passionate group of volunteers we have. They did not give up. Core volunteers put together an extra scooping station to try and boost the numbers. Everyone on the 3:30 shift stayed at least an extra five minutes with many of them packing an extra ten to fifteen minutes. These efforts paid off. At 6:01, a minute past the end of our final shift, the number 350,000 went up.
Every bag packed counted. Every person who stayed a little longer, worked a little harder, came to pack even when the sign up said full, mattered. We could not have reached our goal without the help of every individual there. Thank you!
Two hundred and seventy thousand meals will make their way to Haiti. The remainder will be housed until after our packing event at Minnetonka High School next month. Meals from both events will then be loaded on a truck and sent to Eagle Butte to fill their food pantry. The food will be used to nourish bodies and minds.
When we began sending food to Haiti, the malnutrition rates were high in the area. Over the years, the children and elderly in the program have gained strength and learning power. Two years ago, they began a goat and chicken program, The goat program is still going strong, but the chicken program suffered a setback when a disease spread through the chicken coop. Last year, they set up a shade structure so they could begin an agricultural program. The shade structure helps prevent the seeds from burning off in the hot sun. Once they get the science down, they plan to use it as part of their education process with the students so they can learn to produce their own food. This year they are rebuilding the chicken coop and plan to restart that program. The goal is for us to only be needed as emergency relief some day and that day gets closer all the time.
In Eagle Butte, the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) has started the Winyan Toka Win garden. They began selling the produce at a farmers market last year. This year they were awarded a grant and were able to expand their project. They opened the Keya Cafe that makes food with the produce from the garden, creates jobs and internships for the youth involved with the project, and supports community classes on nutrition and events such as the Community Harvest Festival Dinner. This is a tremendous spark of hope in an area that suffers from high poverty rates, 60% - 90% seasonal unemployment rates, only 30 % graduation rate, depression, and diabetes that is eight times the national average.
It is wonderful to think about all of the healing that has occurred over the past ten years with the food packed at the Pack-a-thons. Once bodies and minds are healed, the learning begins. With the ability to receive education, it is amazing to watch the steps that can be taken towards self sustainability and away from poverty.
This is why we take on such a lofty goal every year. This is why we spend countless hours on a dream to provide food for so many. This is why we are thankful for the generous support of our individual donors,our sponsors Beacon Bank, Pentair, Maynards, IBM, Mount Calvary Lutheran Foundation, Peace Lutheran Benevolence, Mount Calvary Benevolence, Klien Bank, Thrivent Financial Crossroads, and Excelsior Animal Hospital along with special donations made by Shakopee Mdewanton Sioux Community, and Quality Forklift, and Mount Calvary Lutheran Church for their constant support of our mission.
This is why we are so thankful for each and every volunteer that walks through our door. What we accomplished, we accomplished together. Now others can use our accomplishment to create their own accomplishments.
Hopefully, one day the accomplishments will continue to grow and parents won't need to worry about putting their children to bed hungry anymore because they will have learned and developed ways to feed themselves.
I know it is a pipe dream, but so was packing 350,000 meals in a day and a half.
To view more photos of this event, please visit our photo website