Rather than spend Christmas Eve sleeping in or shopping, more than 300 people across the suburbs worked Tuesday to feed hungry children.
Feed My Starving Children, a 26-year-old nonprofit organization that secures dry food and ships it to children around the world, held meal-packing sessions at its sites in Schaumburg, Libertyville and Aurora. The meals are specially designed to feed malnourished children.
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Here's how it works: Volunteers bring $50 apiece to buy a single box of 216 meals for a hungry child. Then they spend an hour or so assembling the healthy meals -- made out of rice, chicken-flavored vitamin powder, soy and dried vegetables -- putting them in pouches, and boxing them up for kids in 70 different countries.
The meals packaged Tuesday will be shipped to Haiti and Cambodia, said Christine Varsbergs, site supervisor at the Aurora office. The Libertyville site had the strongest turnout Tuesday, with 140 people. Next were Aurora with 117 people and Schaumburg, with 86 volunteers.
In response to demand from people who wanted to spend their holidays doing meaningful work, Feed My Starving Children organized sessions on Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve.
"A lot of people wanted to help on Christmas Eve, so we decided to open our doors," Varsbergs said.
Among the Aurora volunteers were the Burgess and Johnson families, mostly from Geneva.
The families, who know each other from United Methodist Church of Geneva, fielded 18 people who hailed from downstate Champaign, as well as from Boulder, Colo., and even South Africa. The Burgess family brought 13 people while the Johnsons rounded up five.
As Christmas tunes blared over the speakers, the volunteers, wearing hairnets, smiled, sang along and shouted when they were running low on food supplies.
"I think it's really fun. I'm helping kids all over the world, and it just feels really good," said Lael Burgess, 11, of Colorado.
The $650 Judy and Dudley Burgess paid for three generations of their family to participate together beat any deal they could have gotten at a big box store.
"We decided this was a better gift to give all of them rather than a lot of stuff," Judy Burgess said. "We've been to Haiti; we know that our kids are never hungry. We want other children to have that kind of feeling. It's part of a way of living your faith. You don't just talk about it."