ECU and Stop Hunger Now kicked off the second annual University Million Meals Week at the Greenville Boys and Girls Club on Saturday, August 22, and set the tone with a spirited campaign that included volunteers from Pitt County coming together to put a sizable dent in world hunger.
More than 650 volunteers produced 175,000 meals for hungry children in Nicaragua.
“It means everything [to have ECU involved.] It is so important that we reach young people, because one of our goals is to end apathy towards hunger and to build awareness that hunger is solvable. There is a solution to hunger,” said Chessney Barrick, director of development for Stop Hunger Now.
That solution for 1,100 children in Nicaragua came in the form of approximately 175,000 meals packaged by more than 650 ECU and community volunteers. The meals, which consisted of rice, dehydrated vegetables, and dried soy protein, will feed the children of Nueva Vida—a community that sprang out of a refugee camp for Nicaraguans displaced by Hurricane Mitch in 1998—for an entire year.
ECU senior Phylecia Barrett took advantage of her chance to do something for others.
As a DJ pumped music over a sound system, teams of volunteers stood around tables measuring ingredients and combining them to form the meals that will provide much needed nutrition to malnourished children. Many workers danced in place and sang along to the music. Raucous cheers went up each time someone rang the gong, signifying another 5,000 meals had been packaged.
“This is my first time volunteering here and I love it. I love the energy. Everybody is just so happy to help,” said senior Emily Cunningham. “Donating to a charity is great, but when you actually make the meals that are going to feed kids in Nicaragua, it really enhances the experience of helping people.”
For Shawn Moore, community partner coordinator for ECU’s Volunteer and Service Learning Center, events like Million Meals are perfect for students who want to get involved.
“They love these events because they are big and splashy and cool, and they are a great way to get students energized,” she said. “But we are going to continue with this theme throughout the year, because we have local things that students can do. They can go to their local food pantries and food banks and work with kids at after school programs who are in the same situation. If they want to see hunger they can just go five blocks from the university.”
Although this year’s event coincided with move-in weekend on campus, many students made the time to help and were rewarded for it.
“It felt great to take part in this. I felt important,” said ECU senior Phylecia Barrett, a first-time volunteer. “I’m definitely going to get more involved this year even if it means I have to spread myself thin, because I feel like I’ve kind of slacked in the past. It’s time for me to step up.”
Cunningham, who also serves as the director of service for Golden Key at ECU, volunteered to be a team leader. Not only did she feel great about helping to feed hungry children, she gained valuable experience leading others.
“This has really been a great leadership experience for me as well. To have a group to have to delegate to and help is something that’s going to help me in any job that I have later on,” she said.
University Million Meals Week was a natural fit for ECU’s Volunteer and Service Learning Center as the event’s broad appeal afforded an excellent opportunity for campus and community to work together, as evidenced by the 50/50 split in ECU and community volunteers.
“The community is seeing ECU students doing a good thing right off the bat, and they are engaged together so that’s even better,” said Moore.
Community volunteers ranged from individual citizens, to church groups and civic organizations. The event even attracted local leaders like Greenville mayor Pat Dunn, and ECU Provost, Marilyn Shearer. Kandie Smith, a candidate for Greenville City Council, volunteered Saturday because she believes events like the University Million Meals Week can be a model for building a better community.
“I like how ECU tries to do things with the community and include the community. Greenville talks about being an inclusive community, and this shows how we can be inclusive. When you have all these partnerships and people working together we can do great things. We need that on all levels. Not only when it comes to trying to feed other people, but we need that when it comes to crime and safety. We need that with everything else that’s going on in the community,” she said.
Stop Hunger Now’s University Million Meals Week continues Saturday, August 29, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.