Feed the Need anti-hunger event returns to North Central College Feb. 18-19
A volunteer team of thousands will pack North Central College's Res/Rec Center over Presidents Day weekend to pack more than half a million meals for children facing hunger worldwide.
The Feed the Need Illinois event, benefiting Feed My Starving Children, a Christian anti-hunger nonprofit, returns to Naperville's NCC Feb. 18-19.
Volunteer groups and individuals from across DuPage, Kane and Will counties will work in two-hour shifts over the weekend to pack FMSC MannaPack meals, which consist of a specially formulated blend of dehydrated vegetables, vitamins, soy protein and rice.
Weeks before the first pandemic shutdowns began in 2020, Feed the Need volunteers packed north of 1 million meals, or enough to feed nearly 2,900 children a daily meal for a year. FMSC MannaPack meals are distributed through partners across the world in places like South Sudan, El Salvador, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a 99% delivery success rate.
"Not everyone has the ability or the time or the capacity or the financial ability to go to Africa or to go be in the mission field, but everyone can spend a couple of hours at FMSC and pack food that makes a big difference in people's lives," says Matt Hebel, 2023 chair of Feed the Need Illinois and a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Naperville.
After two years of scaled-down Feed the Need events, this year's Feed the Need will bring the music, energy and cross-community camaraderie of previous NCC MobilePacks back to North Central's Res/Rec Center -- even if numbers don't quite reach what they were prepandemic.
"With volunteerism, I think people have taken the opportunity to use the pandemic as kind of an inward retrospection, and they're not yet back to where everyone wants to give of their time freely," Hebel said. "My hope is that this year we hit our 800,000 meals goal, which is ambitious, but my prayer is that in 2024, we're back at 1 million. Last year was a reboot; this year is, 'We can do this again,' and next year, we're going to crush things like we did in years past."
Feed the Need, Hebel added, "literally is a good time, but it's a good time that has a dynamic, positive, life-changing impact."
Les May, co-coordinator of the Feed My Starving Children ministry group at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Naperville and a co-founder of Feed the Need Illinois, has seen the MobilePack grow from involving a handful of faith communities in Naperville to the multicounty, two-day, annually anticipated event that it now is.
In 2023, Feed the Need counts 20 area faith partners, including Congregation Beth Shalom of Naperville, St. Mary Immaculate Parish of Plainfield, Gary United Methodist Church in Wheaton, and Alpha Missionary Baptist Church of Bolingbrook, as well as eight corporate and civic partners.
"Feed My Starving Children is an incredible organization," said May, who helped launch the Feed the Need MobilePack in the gym of Our Saviour's Celebration Campus in 2012.
Last year, amid continued pressures worldwide from the COVID-19 pandemic, a historic drought in Angola, the devastation of two Caribbean hurricanes and a new hunger crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine, Feed My Starving Children saw demand soar, May noted. The World Food Programme called 2022 a year of "unprecedented hunger," and Feed My Starving Children last summer increased its projected meal production for the fiscal year by more than 20 million to 445 million meals.
"They need many more volunteers to pack these additional meals," May said. One unique aspect of Feed My Starving Children packing events, whether MobilePacks like Feed the Need or any of the 30 weekly meal-packing shifts at Feed My Starving Children-Aurora (555 Exchange Court), is that they welcome young participants.
"Volunteers ages 5 and up can help pack meals to address the incredible need across the world for nutritious meals for starving children and their families," May said.
Grade-school children can participate alongside their parents and grandparents, troop leaders, coaches and teachers, and in so doing develop an awareness of both the acute problem of food insecurity worldwide and their own ability to be part of the effort to combat it.
May himself is taking the message to Sunday school classes at Our Saviour's, encouraging them to be part of an event that may be new to them but that promises to be a volunteer experience unlike any other they may have participated in.
"It's about using your hands and feet to be God's hands and feet," offered Hebel. "But even if you don't have a spiritual connection to it, it's doing good for someone else, someone in need."
To sign up for a two-hour shift Feb. 18 or 19, visit feedtheneedillinois.org.