by Dennis Dalman
More than 700 people, including many from Sartell, helped fill, seal and pack food bags during the We Are Thankful event Nov. 22 at River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud.
The food bags will be shipped to areas in rural Liberia in West Africa, the site of so many cases of Ebola, which has devastated families, the economy and food production. The idea originated with Sampson Sarclay, a local man originally from Liberia, who has lived in the St. Cloud area for 20 years. If it soon meets its goal of 300,000 food bags, We Are Thankful will have enough of them to fill an entire semi-load/shipment container.
Some of the food packers included about 20 members of the Sartell schools’ TARGET club, a group committed to healthy, drug-free lifestyles and community-service projects. The group was accompanied by Adam VandeVrede, who, along with Jackie Wruck, is the group’s co-leader. VandeVrede is a law-enforcement school liaison officer.
Another Sartell helper was Rosemond Owens, originally from Ghana, who is CentraCare’s cultural-competency director.
Pam Beard, executive director of Kids Fighting Hunger, coordinated the massive effort, with help from other agencies.
Each bag contains rice, flavorings and a nutritional powder. Boiled in water, the tasty food that results is enough to last a person or small family through a day.
Those who made the event possible are Kids Fighting Hunger; the Central Minnesota Initiative Foundation; ShareCARE International, a group that promotes education, health and self-sufficiency; the Stearns Public Health Division of the Department of Human Services; and CentraCare.
We Are Thankful consisted of three two-hour sessions, each involving more than 250 people, which included community-service groups from schools and churches, as well as individual volunteers. An entire ballroom of the convention center was quickly turned into a factory of sorts, with 28 tables in long lines where groups of people measured and filled the plastic bags. Others then sealed the bags with a press machine and still others packed the food bags into cardboard shipping boxes.
At each session, there was an educational presentation that outlined the Ebola crisis, its effects on West Africa and why it should not cause panic in the United States. Sally Sands, public-health coordinator for Stearns County, provided information about what Ebola is and what it isn’t.
In West Africa, Ebola has taken the lives of more than 5,200 of the 14,500 people who have become infected by it. People must be quarantined for three weeks as soon as the first symptoms of Ebola appear. A major reason for the Kids Fighting Hunger food shipments is that quarantined people, stuck inside their homes, will have enough food to sustain themselves through the quarantined times inside their homes. Some food will also be delivered to orphanages. Ebola deaths have increased the number of orphan children who no longer have a father, mother or any other adults to care for them. Another reason for the need for food is that in some parts of West Africa, fields have gone unharvested because of the fear of contact with other people.
A similar Kids Fighting Hunger event will take place Jan. 24 at Celebration Lutheran Church in Sartell. For more about the event, visit kidsfightinghunger.org.
Those who want to donate to the Central Minnesota Helps Fund can send a check to CMCF, 101 S. 7th Ave. Suite 100, St. Cloud, Minn. 56301. Or go to CommunityGiving.org, then click on “Donate” and select “Central Minnesota Helps Fund” in the drop-down “Select One” menu box.