The numbers quickly become apparent: Seven days. Nine churches. Ten businesses. 1,800 volunteers. 531,000 meals. Infinite good will.
And so goes the war on hunger launched from Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater, where "Meals from the Heart" is more than a catchy slogan. Instead, the church and its many partners live it, having embarked on a full-scale mission to address a worldwide problem.
Their industry was apparent last week at the Andersen Windows headquarters in Oak Park Heights, where legions of volunteers packed food that will be sent as far away as Haiti and Africa — and as close to home as Stillwater, St. Paul, western Wisconsin and other nearby areas.
"It's good to know I can help somebody else," said Joleen Graven of Stillwater, a volunteer representing the Kohl's store in Maplewood. "Give back to your community. That's what it's all about."
Volunteers packed a mixture of rice, textured soy protein, dehydrated vegetables and a vitamin and mineral powder into plastic envelopes. When cooked, each meal feeds as many as six people overseas, and that single serving might be the only one they get each day.
"Culturally this fits very well in international environments where they're extremely poor," said Susan Roeder, public affairs director at Andersen Windows. The company donated $10,000 in cash and space for the meal packing. It will ship the boxed meals as well, she said.
Spooning mineral powder at one table last week was Sylvia Berg of Stillwater, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church since the 1940s. She was one of the oldest volunteers and one of the most active, too. On Wednesday nights, for example, she serves pizza to youth at the church.
One of the youngest volunteers packing meals one morning last week was Madeleine Stankiewicz of Mahtomedi, a Girl Scout working toward earning her Silver Award. "The quicker I pack, the more people get fed," she said.
One volunteer will pack about 300 meals in a two-hour shift, said Tom Thiets, Trinity's director of mission ministries and founder of the meals program five years ago. He was one of three men wearing red caps who monitored the pace of packing to make sure Trinity's goal was met.
Another red-cap supervisor, Chuck Newman, said volunteers often respond to the tempo of the music played while they pack.
"We put Johnny Cash on, and it hurries up," he said. "We put something on with a slow beat, and it slows way down."
'A good feeling'
Imagine buying lunch for 25 cents. That's what it costs to assemble a single meal, including ingredients.
Financial support to buy all the fixings comes from volunteers, who donate $20 each, but also from sponsors such as Mano Amiga Inc., Thrivent Financial, the Salvation Army and St. Paul Lutheran Church. The seven-day meal-packing effort ended Saturday, but the need to deliver more continues because of the enormity of the hunger problem, Thiets said.
Like Andersen Windows, businesses have rallied to help "Meals from the Heart" with resources from cash donations to free labor and equipment. In this meal-packing effort, 500 Andersen employees each will work a two-hour shift on company time "as long as we're sure we can still make windows, which we can," Roeder said.
Graven, of Kohl's, said that through a company program called "Associates in Action," each employee who donates three hours per charity event guarantees a $500 Kohl's donation to that cause.
"It's a good feeling," she said.