Rotary, students to package up meals for kids

MARSHALL — In the past eight years, Marshall Sunrise Rotary has partnered with Marshall Middle School to help package about 800,000 meals as part of a Food for Kidz project.

The strong partnership between Sunrise Rotary Club members and the students, staff and faculty at MMS will continue as the 9th annual packaging event takes place on Feb. 16.

“We partner with the students, staff and faculty who will actually be doing the packaging,” Rotary member and event chair Eric Luther said. “Rotary members will be there to oversee the packaging stations. Our club also helps out financially.”

Luther, who was the Rotary president when it started the project in Marshall, said the students were really the manpower behind the packaging process. Most of the middle school students — fifth- through eighth-graders — take part in the effort.

“Each grade level has between 160 and 180 kids,” he said. “We have about 18-20 stations, so each student has a great opportunity to have a hands-on experience. They think it’s fun. It teaches them a little bit about teamwork and other things.”

With so many volunteers, the packaging process goes very quickly.

“Each grade level helps out for about 50 to 55 minutes,” Luther said. “Each year, we usually package between 94,000 and 98,000 meals in a little over four hours. One of comments from the organization is that we’re one of the larger packaging events that happens in that short amount of time. Most pack throughout the whole day, but ours is only a little over four hours. That’s pretty amazing.”

Luther said many of the middle school teachers appreciate the responsibility piece that is learned through taking part in the Food for Kidz event.

“The students learn about teamwork and giving back,” he said. “They get the message that you need to give back to your community and also that there are people in the world who aren’t doing so well and that it’s a good thing to help them.”

National Honor Society members from Marshall High School also pitch in and help with the packaging effort.

“The NHS students will help oversee the stations,” Luther said. “It’s nice because those students have already done the packaging. They have a good time, too. They need community service hours, so it works out really well.”

Luther said that when Sunrise Rotary spearheaded the project nine years ago, its mission was to help eradicate hunger both globally and at home.

“What we’ve accomplished is that some of the food stays here locally and some of it is sent to people in need around the world,” he said. “Our club set a goal to package a million meals. Along with the Food for Kidz project, we also help serve at Esther’s Kitchen because one of our goals as a club is to focus on helping to eradicate hunger locally in Marshall and in other areas around the world.”

Two different meals will be packaged this year. The first is an oatmeal and the second is like a chicken casserole.

“In talking to the food shelf, they have clients who come through and they very much appreciate them having that,” Luther said. “We do the oatmeal, which needs to be used fairly quickly. It’s a better fit locally. Clients at the food shelf like the oatmeal because it’s something they can prepare for breakfast. The other is a chicken casserole to be used in other parts of the world. We’ve done that for several years.”

Sunrise Rotary and MMS also partner with businesses in the community to help cover the $12,000 project costs.

“The teachers and staff will usually spearhead the student piece and help fundraise for the ingredient cost,” Luther said. “MMS students do different fundraising projects throughout the year within their classes and then our Rotary Club also provides financial assistance. We also reach out to business partners to help with those costs.”