A Minnesota group has launched a food drive to help feed orphans and neglected children in Ebola-ravaged countries.

The Minnesota African Task Force Against Ebola started collecting donations Saturday. It hopes to gather 132,000 pounds of nonperishable food, such as canned goods and bags of rice, to ship to accredited groups already on the ground working to address hunger in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

“If the community can help in any way possible to get food to these people, that’s what our plea is today,” said Robena Lewis-Vincent, of Plymouth, who is organizing the food drive for the task force. “These children are hungry.”

Donations streamed into the Brooklyn Park Community Activity Center on Saturday, the first day of the drive. The campaign continues, and Lewis-Vincent said anyone wanting to donate can call her directly for a pickup or to arrange a drop-off point.

“We’re pleading with the community: If you have any food you would like to donate, please give me a call,” she said.

Lewis-Vincent’s phone number is 660-687-9016.

The Minnesota African Task Force Against Ebola formed last summer to help combat the Ebola virus and educate people about the disease. It’s a joint effort of leaders in the area’s West African community including organizations such as the Guinean Association of Minnesota and African Immigrant Services.

The Ebola virus has killed more than 9,000 people since the start of the outbreak in West Africa last year, and fear of infection and the stigma of the deadly disease present significant challenges to survivors. UNICEF estimates that more than 16,600 children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have lost one or both parents, or a primary caregiver who isn’t a biological parent, to the Ebola virus in the current epidemic. The majority of them have been taken in by families, the organization said.

“Identifying vulnerable children and providing services to them has been one of the many challenges faced in responding to the Ebola crisis in a region where social welfare and child protection were already weak before the outbreak,” UNICEF said in a Feb. 6 news release

The outbreak has also taken a big toll on farming and food production in the three countries, and efforts are underway to avert a food crisis. The World Bank recently announced it’s sending up to $15 million in financing for urgently needed maize and rice seed for more than 200,000 farmers in the hard-hit West African countries in time for April planting.