Bay Area volunteers working together to pack 200,000 meals for the hungry

DANVILLE, Calif. (KTVU) - At a time when families are busy with graduations and summer plans, 1,000 volunteers will take the time this weekend to pack food for hungry nations across the world.

"I broke a sweat very early," Tony Thomas of Danville told KTVU, "I'm a runner, which means I get to carry the boxes from the stations to get weighed."

The auditorium at East Bay Foursquare Church was packed with volunteers like Thomas, organized among tables in an assembly line fashion: sorting, weighing, spooning and sealing non-perishable food into meal-sized bags.

Thomas, his wife and three children, ages four to 16, were all assigned different tasks. He said it was an opportunity they wouldn't pass up.

"We're all so tremendously blessed in this area," he noted, "and it's a good reality check for the kids to see that people in other parts of the world don't have what we have."

Organized by the international aid group, "Feed our Hungry Children," the high-energy blitz will send 200,000 meals to as many as 30 countries.

"There's rice, vegetables, fiber, soy, stuff like that," described 12-year-old Joseph Osicki, admitting it's not something he'd be eager to eat.

"Unless I was really, really hungry," he smiled.

The two hour shift gave some young volunteers time to think about what passes for "hunger" in their own lives.

"Skipping lunch or not getting a snack after school," noted Jake Van Wart, 13. "It's kinda sad to think what others go through."

Alongside Van Wart, scooping from huge sacks of meal, was his buddy Alec Hagopian, also 13.

"I think a lot of people are aware of it but not many do anything about it," he observed.

The two-day food packing event was a chance to do something tangible: with every bag, every box, every pallet filled.

"We get to have an experience which is going to change us" enthused organizer Chris Saunders, who told KTVU she was looking for a community project that would appeal to all faiths and service groups.

"Within 39 hours, all 500 spots were booked," Saunders marveled, "so we added 500 more."

That meant raising another $20,000 for the meals.

Donors fund the food and provide the labor. Feed our Hungry Children provides the training, equipment, and transportation.

"I learned there are people in the world who don't have the same stuff as us," 12-year-old volunteer Jonah Kruger told KTVU, "and maybe someday I will go visit some of these places, maybe Africa, and help the starving."

Organizers say raising awareness and generating compassion are as important as the food-packing itself.

And for many, the hands-on experience seemed more meaningful than just making a charitable donation.

"People have come up to me afterward and said this was the best thing they've done in so long," said Saunders.

"You all packed 119 boxes of food, 119 !" came the announcement from the stage as volunteers finished their shift.

In less than two hours, 25,000 meals, which is enough to feed 70 children one meal a day for a year.