Volunteers at Feed My Starving Children

Volunteers at Feed My Starving Children’s Mesa food-packing facility perform a variety of tasks, including sealing bags that contain meals.

From 2005 to 2015, world hunger was decreasing, but now it is once again on the rise.

The Mesa packing station for Feed My Starving Children – one of the nonprofit’s largest facilities – is actively combating the problem by producing more than a million meals a week, Brian Hetzer, volunteer program supervisor at FMSC Mesa said.

A huge volunteer base created over the last 10 years gets the job done, Hetzer said.

“The primary source of ongoing volunteers really has been word of mouth,” he said. “At least half of our volunteers on a regular basis are returning.”

Sometimes he reaches out to churches, schools and businesses, but mostly volunteers step up on their own, he said.

And they return often for a variety of reasons. 

Sire manager Bill Major said the best way to get volunteers in the door and keep them coming back is to make it the best volunteer experience in the East Valley and engaging them as soon as they walk through the door.

Volunteers begin with an orientation where a staff member educates them on the organization’s mission and success stories. They are taught food safety and how to pack Feed My Starving Children’s trademarked MannaPack meal bags.

Then, volunteers will be taken back to wash hands, put on gloves and begin bagging and boxing food. 

Volunteers in groups up to 12 gather around long tables strategically arranged in a U-shape. Others bring ingredients and boxes to tables.

On each side of the table, a volunteer holds a bag underneath a funnel while another pours one cup of white rice and vitamin powder. Then, the bag is passed to the next person to be weighed. 

“Each bag has to weigh between 300-480 grams,” Hetzer said.

If a bag is heavier, the volunteer will use a provided spoon to remove some rice. If it is too light, they will add more rice.

While these functions can be handled by children, an adult must handle the next step: each bag must be sealed, then boxed.

After the two-hour session ends, volunteers and staff regroup in the main room where had orientation. They are applauded by staff and told how many boxes they packed, how many children they fed and for how long, Hetzer said.

“Because you chose to come and here pack food for two hours, you changed the lives of 140 kids,” Hetzer tells volunteers.

Many businesses and groups use the packing sessions as team-building events, Hetzer said.

“Just yesterday we had Southwest Airlines here,” he said. “We had over 100 Southwest employees.”

Hetzer also said the Mesa Police Department will come in with full-gear to package food.

Other common volunteer groups are from Allstate, Humana, Wells Fargo, various schools from the Chandler and Mesa school districts, and fraternities at Arizona State University, Hetzer said.

Special needs groups will also attend sessions, he said.

“They will be primarily our label group,” Hetzer said.

Lauren Clay, Daniel Ariel and Tristan McDannel were part of a group of volunteers from Wells Fargo in Chandler.

All three have volunteered with other organizations before: McDannel with HALO Animal Rescue, Ariel with Dumb Friends League animal shelter; and Clay as a “carebear” at Sun Lakes of Arizona Community.

But all three said they prefer volunteering at Feed My Starving Children Mesa.

“I like that anyone can do it,” Clay said.

Young children, even under 5, participate by pouring ingredients into the bags, Hetzer said.

Although Feed My Starving Children is a Christian organization, it does not exclude people of other or no faiths, Hetzer said.

“It is a religious organization, but it doesn’t feel exclusionary,” Ariel said.

“It’s a lot livelier,” McDannel said. 

Dwayne Lewis, a student at Mesa Community College, has packaged food with Feed My Starving Children Mesa six times.

He enjoys how other volunteers communicate and help each other when they need it, he said.

The largest limitation Feed My Starving Children faces is funding, Hetzer said.

“At packing sessions, we ask for donations because all of our food is donated,” Hetzer said.

Without donations, Feed My Starving Children cannot purchase ingredients or pay for shipping, Hetzer said.

There also are never enough volunteers. The number can fluctuate weekly and can leave 50 to 60 spots open in a volunteer group, Hetzer said.

Still, the gaps do not make a major difference as the volunteers who are on hand often pick up the pace. Hence, Hetzer does not have to recruit many volunteers often, he said.

And when he does need volunteers, he said he contacts churches and affiliates of Feed My Starving Children. 

The five staff members also do not have much time to get to know the 200 volunteers very well in every two-hour session, he said. 

During sessions, staffers assist volunteers and during the 30 minute period between sessions, they replenish supplies and finish any cleaning that volunteers may not have completed properly, such as wiping down tables or sweeping, Hetzer said.

But Hetzer believes volunteers return regardless because of the kids they feed, he said.

During one of the debrief sessions, 200 people produced in two hours enough food to feed 140 kids for a year, Hetzer said.

“The reality is where else can you spend two hours of your day and change lives like that?”

Hetzer said he discovered that people have a “human desire to help the less fortunate,” something he said is especially noticeable during the holiday season when the packing sessions are “booked.”

Usually around holiday seasons, people want to give back and because kids are out of school, Hetzer said.

Hetzer believes Feed My Starving Children is successful for two main reasons: a “simple” mission of feeding kids and a “fun and rewarding,” family-friendly means of achieving it, he said.

Hetzer said many parents take their children to volunteer to combat “selfish” tendencies, noting:

“Parents want kids to be thankful for what they have.”

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