RALEIGH — More than 1,500 volunteers - students, Girl Scouts, church group members, senior citizens - will gather in N.C. State University's Carmichael Gymnasium today to pack more than 400,000 meals for Haitians still suffering from the effects of a devastating earthquake in January.
It's the kickoff of a series of the festive, rally-like campus events organized by the Raleigh aid group Stop Hunger Now that aims to pack 1 million meals for people in poor countries. UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University will hold their own meal packing events next weekend, and UNC-Wilmington plans another in November.
NCSU has played an outsized role in sending food to Haiti. At a similar event in February, volunteers packed more than 120,000 meals, all paid for via a "Howl For Haiti" fundraiser started by student leaders, who collected money at basketball games, a fashion show and at tables set up around campus.
Even with 1,700 or so volunteer jobs to fill, the fall meal-packing events have become so popular that NCSU turns away hosts of would-be volunteers, event coordinator Tierza Watts said. This year, it added a blood drive, in part to give an outlet to those who didn't make it off the waiting list.
Each meal is a mix of rice, soy protein, dehydrated vegetables and vitamins. The aid group uses most of it to support school meal programs in more than a dozen impoverished countries but has boosted its efforts this year because of the disaster in Haiti, group founder Ray Buchanan said in an interview Friday.
It has been more than half a year since the earthquake, and Buchanan fears that people here will forget Haiti's woes.
"The needs are just so immense, and will continue to be," he said.
More than 31 million meals have been assembled at Stop Hunger Now events since they started the meals program in 2005, about a third of them this year. That's a big number, but not nearly big enough and, in a way, not really the point, Buchanan said.
"Yes, it's amazing, and there is a real need for those meals," he said. "But we want build a mindset among people that we're not going to tolerate hunger any more."
At the beginning of each meal packing event, a Stop Hunger Now staff member speaks about hunger, and throughout their training volunteers are encouraged to reach out to others to talk about it.
"We want this to be an introduction to hunger action, so that it's not the last thing that they do to fight hunger, but the first thing," he said.
A $100,000 event
To help pay for the $100,000 cost of today's event at NCSU, the university asked volunteers to raise $50 each, not just by pulling it out of their own pockets but by approaching others and talking to them about hunger and seeking smaller donations, said Watts, the event coordinator.
Some went well beyond $50. Hunter Isgrig, 18, a sophomore biology major from Weaverville, was a lifeguard at the tony Grove Park Inn in Asheville this summer and talked his bosses into letting him and another NCSU student, Amanda Antono of Raleigh, hold a fundraiser at the pool.
Isgrig packed meals at NCSU last year and has taken Buchanan's fight to heart.
"This is one big issue that is correctable, so why not do something about it?" he said.
Isgrig and Antono collected $375 at the pool party. He figures that if they had been focused entirely on money they could have pulled in significantly more, but they took the time to chat up donors about the basics of hunger.
"It's not just about getting a check," he said. "The real purpose is to spread the word about the cause."
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