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Army of volunteers feeds thousands in El Salvador

450 at St. Matthew's pack 160,000 meals for poor abroad

Callie Schneider, 5, of Franklin stacks  a plastic bag containing dehydrated food in St. Matthews Lutheran Church on Oct. 19. The church, along with 600 volunteers, is spending the weekend packaging 200,000 meals for the international charity Worldwide Hunger Relief.

Callie Schneider, 5, of Franklin stacks a plastic bag containing dehydrated food in St. Matthews Lutheran Church on Oct. 19. The church, along with 600 volunteers, is spending the weekend packaging 200,000 meals for the international charity Worldwide Hunger Relief. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Oct. 24, 2012

Over 160,000 people in El Salvador can have a meal due to the efforts of volunteers at St. Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa.

An estimated 450 volunteers on Oct. 19-21 packed 160,000 meals that will be shipped to their partner Lutheran synod in El Salvador and distributed to those affected by natural disasters.

The weekend event was the largest food pack the church has ever done, besting a drive about a half decade ago when roughly 125,000 meals were assembled.

"It's powerful. These families have so little and are so grateful and they know without this gift, their children would be starving," said Jill Nelson, a volunteer who has been to El Salvador through church programs.

St. Matthews is part of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of Wisconsin, which partners with synods in El Salvador and Tanzania. Through the partnership, St. Matthews has provided care via a soup kitchen, homeless ministry, orphanage, sustainable projects and other programs. The packed food will be distributed to a synod warehouse, which will then distribute the food to areas hit by food shortages, natural disasters or any other emergencies.

This is also the first time the church had a say as to who will receive the food they have packed. Their previous packing partner, Feed Our Starving Children, would distribute the food St. Matthews volunteers packed around the world based on need. The church parted ways with the Minneapolis-based organization last year and have adopted a new partner, the Waukesha-based group Worldwide Hunger.

Once the meals are packed, they are sent to El Salvador via a shipping container. Usually there are 250,000 meals to a shipping container, so World Wide Hunger will fill the rest of the container, which will be deployed in the next few weeks. Shipping the meals cost the church roughly $30,000.

Each meal consists of one cup of rice, soy, vegetable flavoring and one teaspoon of vitamins and minerals. The vitamins and minerals are chosen primarily with childhood health and growth in mind.

The meals are put in boxes by an assembly-line of volunteers. The volunteers ranged from children to adults and they worked on five two-hour shifts.

Pastor Chris Manke said, "When you really get involved, when you put your faith to action, it changes you and it kindles the fire of wanting to help and wanting to do good to other people. It was a lot of work, but we all walked away really feeling good about it."

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