Sara Gilbert, an Apex resident, will be 50 on Thursday. Instead of having a party to mark the milestone, she invited friends to meet her at a Raleigh warehouse to commemorate a different anniversary.
Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief agency that held its first food packaging event on Dec. 10, 2005, was celebrating the 10th anniversary of that transformative day.
Gilbert and friends were among hundreds who worked all day in two-hour shifts, scooping rice out of of boxes and funneling the grains with soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring mix that includes 23 essential vitamins and minerals into small meal bags that are sealed for shipping throughout the world.
The bags, which have a shelf life of two years, can be easily stored and feed six. They are packed into larger boxes that are distributed to school feeding programs, orphanages and places in crisis.
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The goal for the event was to pack 100,000 meals. Gilbert’s goal to celebrate her 50th was half that.
“I invited all my friends to do this and try to get a donation,” Gilbert said early Saturday afternoon while working alongside Benjamin, Dawn and Christopher Roark of Louisburg.
Ray Buchanan, the founder of Stop Hunger Now, watched with pride and enthusiasm as a new shift of volunteers began the packaging process in the early afternoon. An optimist with a lot of energy and ideas, Buchanan told the group that he believed his goal to eradicate hunger in the world was within reach — and sooner than he or the board of directors of his organization originally thought.
In September, President Barack Obama committed the United States to a United Nations sustainable development agenda that among other things establishes “no poverty” and “zero hunger” as goals.
“We live in a world that is so blessed because there’s more than enough food to feed everyone on this planet so there’s no reason for anyone to go hungry,” Buchanan told the volunteers waiting to package the thousands of meals.
He urged those in the crowd who were first-timers at such packaging events to make it a starting point, not their last effort.
“You are already part of a global movement to change the world,” Buchanan said. “Every meal you package is saving a life.”
In its lifetime, Stop Hunger Now has distributed more than 225 million meals in 71 countries. The organization has grown beyond its Raleigh roots and expanded to 21 U.S. sites and seven in other countries.
The first meal packaging event took place at a Raleigh warehouse with 50 volunteers packing 20,000 meals.
Buchanan said he likes the way the events bring together many generations and people from many walks of life and different faiths and races for a common goal.
“One of the things we need globally is more opportunity to work together,” Buchanan said. “We could break down a lot of barriers if we had more of that. ...It’s fun to me to see this kind of enthusiasm. There’s a hunger not just for food, but there’s a hunger to give back.”
Gilbert and those helping her celebrate her birthday were not the only ones there who thought the real gift was the experience of helping others.
That was true for Arianna McCartney, 20, who was loading packages of food into boxes.
It also was the case for Nick Booton, 10, a fifth-grader who summed up what many around him experienced while topping the goal of 100,000 meals packaged.
“I like helping people because it just makes you feel good inside,” Nick said.