“They tricked me into going to school,” Thomas the energetic speaker from Ghana laughed while indicating the nearby CRS members. “I only wanted the food but I had to go to class to get it. So they tricked me.” Then his big smile flashed brighter, “And now I work with them tricking other children into school.”
Partner Shoes and I found ourselves in front of weighing scales. For more than an hour bags upon bags of dried food would magically appear for us to weigh. As soon as a bag left my fingers it would disappear to get sealed and packaged. We were just two people out of a hundred who volunteered for this brutal work.
Okay—That was a slight exaggeration.
Helping Hands—a creation of Catholic Relief Services and Stop Hunger Now—had set up shop today in Clearwater, FL. Their mission was to bring nutritious meals to the hungry of Burkina Faso in Western Africa. They needed many strong, skillful, willing (and did I mention good-looking?) volunteers. Armed in hairnets and plastic gloves, people from all over the Bay area met at the hall of St. Catherine’s Catholic Church to fill and package the food.
After a few speeches about gratitude and what to expect, we were released to the food stations.
The mostly giggling gray-haired folk flocked to the back stations where they took turns filling the plastic bags. Dehydrated Vegetables? Check! Legumes? Check! Grains? Check! So-called “nutritious sachet?” Check! Now run it to the scales!
Shoes and I waited hungrily for the bags to arrive. Too heavy? Remove some grains. Too light? Add grains! How many times can I get it exact with just one spoonful? With frightening speed the bags made their way across the table to the ‘sealers’ who made sure all air escaped the bags before sealing it shut with hot presses.
A flurry of energetic runners passed like blood through veins refilling supplies, transporting bags to get filled, weighed, sealed and finally into cardboard boxes.
Although the work was different and fun, I had to keep reminding myself tasks like this wouldn’t be needed if everyone on the planet was as blessed. I learned before Helping Hands gives food to the needy, they first make sure they aren’t taking away from any existing jobs and resources first. Burkina Faso had neither.
Different organizations request to host the Helping Hands project by pledging to donate enough material for a certain number of meals. St. Catherine’s pledged more than 2900 bags that Saturday and hit that goal in less than three hours.
At the event’s conclusion, you could sample a cooked version of the food we were packaging. I don’t know if they salted the samples for American palates, but it started salty. From Thomas’s story, it didn’t sound like the people in that area cared—they just needed food and nutrition. He painted a very fierce story about the differences in his lifestyle from there to here. How do you focus on improving the economy and surroundings when your first worry is what to eat?
I didn’t feel like I had done enough. It’s hard to feel helpful while sitting down and weighing bags. I just have to trust the bags I touched will eventually calm someone’s hunger.I strongly encourage families… anyone… to just freakin’ GET OUT THERE and volunteer to help the less fortunate. I’m sure you’ve been blessed in some way.
Click on any photo to see more pictures from the event.