All day Saturday, volunteers filed through the doors of Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park to pack meals for hungry people around the world.
By the end of the day, 858 volunteers had packed 134,898 meals.
"We had to close registration for all shifts [of volunteers] and tell people to join us for our next event," said Jeanna-Mar Simmons, outreach coordinator for the church.
This is the second year Christ United Methodist Church on Highland Road has packed meals for Stop Hunger Now, an international relief organization based in Raleigh, N.C., that coordinates the distribution of food and other lifesaving aid to countries in need around the world.
This year, Christ United Methodist partnered with Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair to more than double the 54,000 meals packed in 2011.
Both congregations shared in the underwriting for the event, raising $35,017 for the meals.
All of the food items are supplied by Stop Hunger Now. The meals consist of a combination of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and flavoring mix that contains 21 vitamins and minerals. The food is reconstituted with water and used in crisis situations and in school programs and orphanages in developing countries..
Each meal costs 25 cents. Surplus funds were donated to Stop Hunger Now.
"One of the things that appealed to us is that in many of these countries, education doesn't always have the same value. But if parents know there is a meal and their children will be fed, they will send their kids to school," Mrs. Simmons said. "The byproduct is children are educated and can move beyond their present circumstances."
The meals are culturally neutral and can be supplemented by flavors used in the country receiving them.
Before each 90-minute shift Saturday, new volunteers watched a short video to learn what they would be doing. Children were typically "runners," taking the packaged meals across the gym to where they were packed into boxes.
"Ninety minutes of your time is nothing to have that kind of far-reaching impact," said Becky Cozza of Upper St. Clair, who participated for the second year.
"Usually you see the same people volunteering," Mrs. Cozza said. But this project attracted a diverse group of people of all ages. "It was just something you knew you had to be part of," she said.
Three generations of Sheryl Langlois' family volunteered. The Peters resident brought her parents, Al and Bonnie Thompson, and her children, Maddie, 8; Jake, 7; and Kenzie, 4.
"We ate lunch and talked before we went to the church about how full we were, and we talked about how we were helping people who never have that feeling," Ms. Langlois said. "And my children got it. I wish we had this opportunity every weekend to participate in this."
With so much support, Mrs. Simmons sees the project growing exponentially in the future.
"With the blending of congregations and community members, we really feel, based on the energy behind this, we could expand beyond our congregations in the future," she said.
For more information on Stop Hunger Now: www.stophungernow.org.
Jill Thurston, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.