RIO GRANDE — 14,668.
That’s how many food packages volunteers from across the Ohio Valley managed to put together during a recent “Hunger Challenge” event in the auxiliary gymnasium at the University of Rio Grande’s Lyne Center.
The “Hunger Challenge” is a large food-packaging event, held on-site in any given community, where numerous volunteers come together for a short period of time to assemble packages of dehydrated food product to send overseas to starving children and families.
Not even a HAZMAT drill in the nearby parking lot deterred the volunteers – about 80 in all — from packaging those nearly 15,000 packages filled with rice, soy, chicken stock and dehydrated vegetables into several boxes bound for destinations overseas where children face malnourishment and starvation.
Pastor Thom Mollohan, of Pathway Community Church in Gallipolis, partnered with Heaven Sent Ministries in Princeton, W.Va., developers of the Hunger Challenge.
“One of the really powerful things about (the food packages is) there are 21 vitamins that have been added to enrich it and target the immune system because one of the issues that starving and malnourished children face is the suppressed immune system,” he said. “Even though they may have food, if they don’t have enough vitamins and minerals that their body actually needs to develop a healthy immune system, then they become prey to all kinds of illnesses and things that we might quickly deal with and move on from, like a cold or something like that.”
Mollohan said the food is basically designed for children who are struggling with “real starvation issues” and to help them fend off disease.
The batch of food that Ohio Valley volunteers helped assembled is destined for Ghana, a nation of about 25.9 million people on western Africa’s Gulf of Guinea.
“It’s going to a region along the Volta River (in southeastern Ghana), where there are many people that have been struggling with different kinds of hunger issues,” Mollohan said.
Mollohan said many of the children to whom the food is destined are working in forced labor situations, logging 14-hour days with little food, clothing and rest.
“According to International Justice Mission, 50,000 kids are actually … in forced labor in various ways,” he said. “(The packaged food) will give families and children options and hopefully alleviate some of the pressure that the forced labor isn’t the only thing they can do. This actually gives some room for kids to have a different kind of life.”
The Hunger Challenge at URG was the first for Mollohan in the Ohio Valley, but there may be others.
“From the things people have been saying to me, it’s something they hope to be able to do again, so we’re looking at the possibility of doing it again in the relatively near future,” he said.
For a first-time event, Mollohan said he was impressed with the way people came together for a common cause.
“People were willing to do whatever they need to, whether it was adding the soy or holding the bag for the sealers, or packing the box, carrying the rice bags and filling the crates and so forth,” he said. “They were willing to do it. It was just really amazing to see that kind of open spirit.”