It ended up being so much more.
Harley and I were part of the first pack, our Table Four Team (we couldn't come up with a better name) packing 4,320 meals in a little more than an hour, all part of the ongoing effort by Feed My Starving Children to prepare, package and ship nutritious meals where they're needed most. In all, the 2011 pack produced more than 200,000 meals.
As soon as we were finished that day Harley said, "I want to stay and do more." All of the shifts were full that day and we were expected back in McCook straightaway, so I promised Harley if we ever had another opportunity to pack, we'd do it.
That opportunity is here. According to Richard Banks of Imperial, Southwest Nebraska Meals for God's Children has plans to pack more than 500,000 meals during 18 packing sessions spanning five days, July 24-28, at Crossroads Wesleyan Church, 1710 Wesley Dr. in Imperial.
Banks acknowledges that the goal is a "sizable challenge" but he also is confident that it can be done.
"The money is there," he reported late last week. "Now it's time for people to get busy, knowing they're making a difference with every package."
The process is simple. Teams of 7-10 people surround a packing station, white hairnets securely in place. One measures a cup of rice, the next pours in a cup of powdered soy and a third adds a measure of dehydrated vegetables containing flavoring, vitamins and minerals. The recipe is specifically developed to address the unique nutritional needs of a malnourished child. Once the ingredients are in the bag, the bag is weighed to make certain the amounts are right and the sealers go to work, eliminating air from the package, then carefully heat-sealing the bag. From there it goes to the packers, who place 36 packages in each box and then shout out to the gatherers that another box is ready for shipment.
A rhythm quickly develops and the pace picks up. Upbeat music provides even more rhythm and quickly becomes the backdrop to the constant conversational hum. Disposable hand wipes are conveniently placed around the work space as hygiene is of paramount importance.
The support staff from Feed My Starving Children oversee the entire packing operation and stress the importance of keeping everything as clean as possible.
"The children who will receive these meals already face dire health challenges," said Kevin Ewing, a mobile pack supervisor. "We make every effort to protect them from germs or bacteria, anything that could further compromise their health."
Banks estimates that the 2012 pack of 500,000 meals will require some 2,200 volunteers. Each session lasts approximately 2 1/2 hours, including orientation, and volunteers are welcome to sign up for more than one session.
"The church is air-conditioned," he said, adding that cold beverages also will be available.
Banks' enthusiasm for the project is contagious. "I know it can be difficult to keep people energized," he said. "But this really is our best 'out our own backdoor' mission trip."
And the need simply doesn't go away, Banks said ruefully. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, these children need to eat.
"We can all make a difference. A little time, a little talent, a little treasure all goes a long way."
Online registration is open now at www.fmsc.org. Look for the "mobile pack" link, scroll down to Nebraska, find Imperial, SW Nebraska Meals for God's Children and click on "get involved," and follow the prompts.
You can also call (308) 883-0104 for more information.