Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

March 23, 2014

Video: Celebrate packages 30,000 Meals from the Heartland

Steve Woodhouse

Knoxville — "By this time it was late in the day, so (Jesus') disciples came to him Him. 'This is a remote place,' they said, 'and it's already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside to buy themselves something to eat.' But He answered, 'You give them something to eat.'" -Mark 6:35-37

The congregation of Celebrate Community Church is currently studying the parable of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, from the book of Mark in the Bible. Today, Pastor Andrew Schmidt provided them the opportunity to learn this biblical lesson in a unique way. 

Volunteers of all ages, numbering at 343, took part in packaging 30,000 Meals from the Heartland Sunday morning. The fortified rice-soy protein meal packages, each weighing 13.8 ounces, will be distributed to whomever needs them. 

This is the second time the congregation has packaged the meals and the first since the arrival of Schmidt. Schmidt wanted this project to be part of the church's Faith in Action program. The church was hoping to attract 300 volunteers to package the meals and 300 stations were prepared inside the sanctuary. 

Preparation for the day began Friday, when approximately 20 members of the Knoxville High School football team volunteered part of their Spring Break to set the hundreds of chairs inside the sanctuary aside then set up several tables. Bruce Crozier, Youth Pastor at Celebrate, as well as a football coach, said the boys were happy to do their part. Crozier and Troy Pearson organized the set up. 

Meals from the Heartland was started in 2008. To date, nearly 40 million meals have been created for the hungry. The number of meals prepared by Celebrate on Sunday will feed those most in need for nearly two weeks. 

Meals' Hunger Fight Manager, Joel O'Dell said that Meals from the Heartland hosted approximately 90 events last year at schools, churches and businesses, in addition to the organization's major event at Hy-Vee Hall. These 90 events produced four million meals, while the major event produced five million. 

For the first few years of the organization's existence, there was only the single annual event. Pitching in by churches and other organizations has increased the number of meals made available for the hungry. 

"People want to help out," O'Dell said. "It's a matter of giving them the opportunity." 

He was hopeful that those who volunteered would find the experience fun and rewarding. He hopes they will help again if the opportunity arises.

"If it's their first, I hope it's not their last," O'Dell said. 

Several children helped prepare the meals. Others opted to take the organization up on an offer to decorate the boxes the packages were stored in for transport. 

Schmidt was proud of his congregation for not only volunteering on Sunday, but for providing the funding to pay for the meals. When the day was over, several volunteers worked to restore the sanctuary to its usual setting, vacuum and load the full boxes into a truck for delivery. Others cleaned in the kitchen area, where some of the same meals the group packed, were also prepared, to provide a sample for volunteers to find out how the meals taste. 

Also of note at the event, Knoxville Fire/Rescue and Knoxville Police responded to an emergency call. A young lady passed out while assisting in the event. She appeared to be sitting up and talking before being taken away via ambulance.