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Lloyd Omdahl, Published April 08 2012

Omdahl: Starving children get meals

In 2010, Minot became the first city in North Dakota to adopt the Minneapolis-based “Feed My Starving Children” food-packing program for starvation-impacted children. With the municipal auditorium for a staging area, more than 1,400 volunteers packed 307,000 meals in that first venture.

Food ingredients for the Minot project were financed by the volunteers themselves, with each bringing a $50 donation.

The effort was so successful that

the Minot interdenominational coordinating committee planned another event for Nov. 21-23 of this year, this time with the goal of

1 million meals. However, the Souris River flood intervened, damaging the homes of the committee leaders now forced to deal with major home repairs.

Undaunted, Minot is not giving up. The committee did not cancel but postponed the project to 2013 and is still planning a million-meal event.

The Greater Grand Forks Feed My Starving Children project, encompassing both sides of the Red River, just finished a 2012 3-day packing spree March 23-25. A coordinating committee representing various Christian faiths organized the 1,500 volunteers who packed 303,264 meals.

More than 80 percent of the meals packed in Grand Forks went to the Mission of Hope in Haiti.

Financing the $72,000 event were churches, civic organizations, schools, commercial organizations, businesspeople and other individuals from through the Red River Valley. A retired pastor put the project in the black with his donation of $10,000.

Events that pack 300,000 meals, such as were held in Minot and Grand Forks, provide enough healthy food to meet the needs of 900 children for a year.

The meals are excellent. Food scientists at Cargill and General Mills designed the meals especially for hungry children. Ingredients include long grain white rice, dehydrated soy protein, vegetable-based chicken flavor, 20 vitamins and minerals, and dehydrated mixed vegetables. The ingredients are purchased by the sponsoring communities in 1,000-pound containers and are doled out to the packing assemblies in buckets.

At 22 cents a meal, Feed My Starving Children is one of the most cost-effective food distribution programs in the country. Around 93 percent of donations go directly for food and only 7 percent for administration.

Instead of organizing its own distribution bureaucracy, FMSC partners with scores of international feeding organizations already in the field.

FMSC was founded by Minneapolis Businessman Richard Proudfit who witnessed the devastation of an earthquake in Honduras in 1987. It took several years to solve the problems involved in developing healthy meals, putting the meals together, and distributing them to hungry children.

In 1993, FMSC finally turned to the current volunteer system for packaging and volunteers have since packed millions of meals for starving children in 75 countries.

FMSC now has staging sites in Minnesota, Illinois and California to provide the organizational support for food packing now being done from coast-to-coast.

Another food-packing project occurred in Dickinson on Oct. 23, 2009, when the Western North Dakota Lutheran Youth made packing meals for Tanzania International their major fall event.

Once volunteers have participated in a packing event, they are hooked. More than three-fourths of the volunteers are veterans of previous events.

The name of the organization is based on Matthew 25:35, where Jesus calls on his followers to feed the hungry.

Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com