WAUNAKEE — Organizers of a popular food charity on Sunday bagged their one-millionth packet of rice, soy flour, vitamin powder and dried vegetables, said organizers of Food For Kidz.
About 1,000 volunteers worked in the Waunakee Village Center gymnasium as the growing effort marked its seventh year.
“People come and see it and then they bring their kids to help, and before they know it they’re hooked,” said Jeamie Holm, a lead organizer and founder. “The Waunakee businesses and people have really stepped up.”
Organizers gather donations throughout the year then buy the ingredients and packaging — at a cost of 15 cents per meal — from Feeding Children International, a nonprofit in Stewart, Minn.
Volunteers come in for one afternoon, form assembly lines, then measure out and mix the ingredients. Others seal the bags and box them for shipping to distribution centers.
The Waunakee group this year was sending food to people in Afghanistan and El Salvador, as well as local food pantries, Holm said.
Every year, the organizers learn something, Holm said. One year they heard feedback about how the mixture tasted after it was cooked, so they added some serving suggestions.
“For someone in Somalia it tastes great, but to Americans it’s very bland,” Holm said. “It tastes like bland Rice-A-Roni.”
Now the packets are displayed with recipes for adding ham, ground beef, chicken and other items available at pantries.
“Then they started flying off the shelves,” said Chris Brockel, a manager at the Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, which was distributing 50,000 meals to local food panties this year.
After the first year of operations, the participants determined they needed a youth movement.
“In the beginning we were doing all the lifting and we realized we’re too old for that,” said Joni Jurgens, a member of the nonprofit Waunakee Feed The Need committee that runs the show. “So we started bringing in groups from the high school.”
Members of the Waunakee High School wrestling squad were carrying heavy boxes and bins on Sunday, Holm said.
On Sunday, several volunteers said they enjoy the fellowship and the sense of accomplishment.
“It’s very important and dear to my heart,” said Eve Cuccia, a Madison Area Technical College student. She said family members brought her to volunteer a few years ago, and now she is involved in the fundraising that drives the event.