Before thousands of people gather in Naperville to pack nutrient powder, rice and dehydrated vegetables into meals for people in poor nations, they'll watch a video featuring the experiences of a group of North Central College students.
Last year, the students traveled to Nicaragua, one of the countries that receives donations from Feed My Starving Children, to hand-deliver some of the 1 million Manna Packs created by volunteers at the seventh annual Feed the Need! Illinois food-packing event.
If you goWhat: Feed the Need! Illinois, a mobile pack for Feed My Starving Children
Who: Individual volunteers and members of roughly 37 suburban religious organizations
When: Noon to 2 p.m.; 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18; 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19
Where: North Central College Residence Hall/Recreation Center, 440 S. Brainard St., Naperville
Cost: Free; donations accepted
This year, the eighth annual Feed the Need! aims to up the ante to 1.2 million meals so even more children like the Nicaraguan natives the students in the video met can have food to fill their bodies and energize their minds.
The students were "struck" by how much the food helps and how much more is needed, said Bob Huebner, co-founder of the food-packing event.
"They said they had no idea," Huebner said, "until you see it on the ground and that food is given to a child that has hardly anything."
The 1.2 million-meal goal for this year's event, set for Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 18 and 19, at North Central College in Naperville, would feed roughly 3,200 children one meal a day for a year. That would be in addition to the roughly 8,800 children already fed for a year through the 3.2 million meals packed at previous events.
"We have a lot of momentum," Huebner said.
The event will use the volunteer support of members of at least 35 suburban churches, 31 of which have committed to raising money in advance to offset the cost of the meals, priced at 22 cents each.
This year, organizers also are raffling off a car, a 2017 Kia Optima donated by Gerald Kia of Naperville, to further boost fundraising. Raffle tickets are available for $25 each or five for $100 at feedtheneedillinois.org or on-site during the event. Starting Feb. 1, individual volunteer signup will be available at the website as well.
People often want to help at one of 260 "Mobile Pack" events Feed My Starving Children hosts each year across the country because it's a "low-prep, high reward" volunteer opportunity, said Anthony Kasper, a mobile pack adviser for the Minnesota-based Christian charity.
Employees and event organizers find the location, make sure the meal ingredients are on hand and provide training -- all volunteers will do this year is show up for one of five two-hour packing sessions and follow directions.
"You can really make a difference in just those two hours packing tens of thousands of meals," Kasper said.
Volunteers also can make a difference locally by bringing a food donation for the pantry at Loaves and Fishes Community Services. But primarily, during Feed The Need! weekend, their job will be packing.
Packing involves scooping portions of nutrient powder, rice or dehydrated vegetables into pouches and adhering to a process that Feed My Starving Children has down to a science. Organizers say there will be about 50 packing stations set up in the cavernous field house of the Residence Hall/Recreation Center near the college's football stadium, each an assembly line to churn out meals to keep malnourished or undernourished children fed.
Ken and Sharon Vovata of Naperville have volunteered since 2012 through their church, Our Saviour's Lutheran in Naperville. They care not to which country the meals are sent because they trust Feed My Starving Children to get the food to people in need.
The charity partners with agencies on the ground in each of the countries it serves, which include Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines, among others.
"You can feel good about it because you know they're doing their utmost with their partnerships," Ken Vovata said about the organization that makes the Naperville packing event possible. "It makes it more worthwhile to be able to help so many children in such a small amount of time."