By Annie Howard
Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church is serving up an easy way to make a difference.
From April 23-25, the church will host Rise Against Hunger, a food-packaging volunteer event open to the community.
“What we do is, we package grains and they feed schoolchildren or other people in need of food,” said Bo Porter, team leader for the event. “It’s grains and vitamins and other minerals that are healthy for the children or the individuals that consume it.”
The local event is organized through the Rise Against Hunger international hunger relief organization. Meals will ship across the world. Last year’s VHUMC meals went to schoolchildren in Haiti. The international organization will announce where this year’s meals are headed as the event nears.
Each meal combines soy, barley, rice and a vitamin packet. It cooks up into a “rice stew,” Porter said, to create a healthy meal that costs only 29 cents.
Armed with “lively background music” and scoops for the grain, volunteers will put together meals assembly-line style in high-energy two-hour shifts. Once the meals are put together, they’ll be bundled six to a package. Each time volunteers package a certain number of meals, someone sounds a gong – apparently a favorite job for the younger crowd.
It’s an event for anyone and everyone. VHUMC members will attend, but it’s a community event; all are welcome, including kids four years and up.
Volunteers in the past have included Boy Scouts, third-graders from Vestavia Hills East and students with Unless U, an organization for adults with developmental disabilities.
“We reach throughout the community,” Porter said.
This is VHUMC’s third year to hold Rise Against Hunger, but its history goes back further.
“We first became familiar with the program when it was being conducted at another church in the Birmingham area, the Canterbury United Methodist Church in Mountain Brook,” Porter said. Several VHUMC members volunteered at Canterbury’s program, and interest grew. In time, VHUMC decided to host its own event.
The event pulls together churches as well as individuals.
“The partnership at Canterbury was five churches, and then when we began to develop our own event – we’ve built partnerships with about 13 or 14 churches in the Vestavia Hills and Hoover areas,” Porter said. Congregation members from multiple churches will lend a hand over the course of VHUMC’s three-day event.
With each year, output grows a little more. VHUMC is aiming for 300,000 meals this year, up from 270,000 last year. According to Porter, Canterbury’s Rise Against Hunger puts out about 500,000 meals. In time, the Birmingham area may be sending out roughly a million meals a year.
Porter encouraged anyone interested to register at vhumc.org/riseagainsthunger/. Twelve two-hour shifts are offered; they run 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.