Volunteers pour in to fill food bags

UA assembly line compiles 1.4 million, breaks world record

By: Tracie Dungan
Published: Sunday, June 27, 2010
Volunteers diligently fill bags with food on Saturday inside the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville during the Razorback Relief Operation Haiti.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Volunteers diligently fill bags with food on Saturday inside the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville during the Razorback Relief Operation Haiti.

— Volunteers from the community and University of Arkansas athletics packed 1.4 million Haiti “care” meals in 24 hours.

Though the seemingly tireless hairnet-wearing packers didn’t hit their target of 2 million packages, they say they surpassed the previous world record of 1.2 million at 4:08 p.m.

“So we had about three hours left when we broke the record,” UA athletics spokesman Kevin Trainor said Saturday evening.

The final tally was 1,420,638 bags of rice and beans.

“It was also significant because it helped Numana as a group go over 20 million meals since the earthquake,” Trainor said. Numana Inc. is an El Dorado, Kan.-based hunger-relief organization.

Wearing bonnets, aprons and gloves, volunteers turned out for two-hour-minimum shifts for “Razorback Relief Operation Haiti” beginning at 7 p.m. Friday in the Randal Tyson Track Center on the UA campus.

They formed assembly lines to measure, bag, seal and pack dried ingredients for “fortified rice-soy casserole,” a meal that Haitian families can boil and serve in roughly 20 minutes.

Numana, which for three years has been perfecting its method of mass-packing and expediting meals to areas in need, used its connections within UA’s athletic department to hold this weekend’s effort.

For Razorback football running back Broderick Green, giving back to the community has been a way of life since childhood.

“It’s something I’ve always grown up doing,” Green, 21, of Little Rock said Saturday, adding that his mother and grandmother were always taking him and his brothers to help serve meals to the needy on holidays.

“It’s about being blessed and being able to see the opportunity to help someone 1 else,” Green said about 2 /2 hours into his shift, after his table had packed more than 4,300 meals. “I would never pass that up.”

‘FEED ME’

At one end of the indoor track, Numana Chief Executive Officer Rick McNary kept busy unfolding and taping the Numana-brand shipping boxes, each designed to hold 216 meal packages.

By his count, the Fayetteville effort averaged 150 volunteers per two-hour shift and had packed more than 800,000 meals by roughly 11 a.m.

With every 10,000 meals packed, someone banged on a gong stationed near the track.

An earthquake on Jan. 12 ravaged the desperately poor Haiti. Roughly 4 million people among the island nation’s 9 million population are considered critically malnourished, McNary said.

“I met my first starving girl eight years ago,” McNary said, while on a mission trip to Nicaragua. The 5-year-old pleaded with him in Spanish: “Feed me. I’m starving.”

“So I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life figuring out how to feed hungry people,” he said.

It took about four years for the figuring-out part, he said, and then three years ago he helped set up Numana, about the time the economy tanked.

Numana’s assembly lines are set up with four measureable ingredients packed in a specific order.

Vitamin powder, soy powder and beans go in first, he said. The heaviest ingredient, long-grain rice, goes in last so its measurement can be adjusted until every bag weighs the same.

THE RIGHT FORMULA

Richard Proudfit of Minnesota founded Kids against Hunger. According that group’s website, Proudfit’s early efforts to send surplus foods to feed starving children were unsuccessful.

Proudfit worked with foodindustry executives until he came up with a formula that could meet basic nutritional needs. He also worked to ensure that the recipes would meet “the broad range of cultural tastes and religious prohibitions found around the world.”

McNary said that for the Haiti shipment, it was decided that a recipe using dehydrated pinto beans in place of dried vegetables was in keeping with the Haitian diet.

The bags bound for Haiti were labeled with cooking instructions, nutritional facts and ingredient information, and the logos for Numana and for The Salvation Army and its global Salvation Army World Service Office.

The Haitian families will register for the meals through the international Salvation Army so that the food doesn’t end up on the black market. Each family, depending on size, can claim a box or half a box.

In the super-cooled Tyson Track Center on Saturday, Numana corporate development officer Dick A. Morris III said with a big grin, above the din of pop and rock tunes blaring over a loudspeaker, that he is better at the vision part of the job than at taping boxes.

A few years back, the gregarious Morris raised more than $5 million toward the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. As a result, he won the national Veterans of Foreign Wars’ “Americanism Award” and a substantial amount of cash. He and his wife, Denice, wanted to use the money for philanthropy.That’s how he got involved with Numana.

GOLFER CONNECTION

Numana officials learned that, in some hunger-relief efforts, food can sit in a warehouse for as long as a year while the groups find the money or the means to pack and ship it.

More packing events were staged in big cities and small towns, and Morris started looking for groups to enlist for the project.

He had a key connection in the UA athletic department: His son, former Razorback golfer Rich Morris of Fayetteville is a former All-American and 1999 UA graduate.

“My dad called me six weeks ago and said would you be willing to do an event in Fayetteville,” the younger Morris said as he walked the floor of the track, overseeing operations.

Some funding from the World Relief Organization was apparently about to run out, so there was a time crunch for an event like this that typically takes three or four months to organize, Rich Morris said.

“We really put this together in less than six weeks,” he said.

Elsewhere Saturday, similar packing events were going on in Pratt, Kansas, and Milwaukee, Wis., McNary said, but neither of those were seeking to break the record.

“Milwaukee is shooting for a million meals,” he said, and Pratt for a truckload.

VOLUNTEERING BY FAMILY

While the Hogs’ Green has been involved in volunteerism from a young age, some children at the event were just getting started.

Jared and Paula Bennett of Fayetteville worked on the assembly line with a Bennett child literally strapped to them.

Jay, 8 months, napped in a front sling-carrier worn by his mother as she scooped out ingredients. Addy, who’s about to turn 3, watched from a carrier strapped to her dad’s back. The oldest, Peter Bennett, 5, stood on a chair, wearing a hairnet, filling bags.

The family helps out at church, but this was Peter’s first time actually working for a charitable cause, his dad said.

“There are people out there that are less fortunate than us,” Jared Bennett said. “This is great experience.”

Two families that are neighbors - the Litzingers and the Blakeys - likewise had their broods in tow.

Will and Grace Litzinger, 10 and 8, respectively, drew hearts and peace signs on the packing boxes so the Haitian children would receive good thoughts, as well.

“We just wanted to give back to the community,” said Kristin Litzinger as her husband, Steve, worked nearby. “We’ve been talking to our kids about how blessed they are to not want for things.”

One volunteer had no hair to cover with the mandatory hairnet, so he used it to cover his long beard.

Amie Moore of Fayetteville, a pharmaceutical sales representative who demonstrated how the ingredient-measuring went down, said wearing the hairnet didn’t bother her a bit.

“That just makes it more fun,” Moore said. “I’ve given donations for Haiti, but I wanted to do something more hands-on.”

Arkansas, Pages 17 on 06/27/2010

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