Sadly, we live in a world and a time plagued by much tragedy and pain. We are accosted daily with news of wars and domestic violence, disease, natural disasters, and a pernicious epidemic of loneliness. It is heartening, therefore, to connect with a humanitarian organization that works to reduce the plague of hunger in the U.S. and worldwide. Food insecurity is a major crisis that generally gets less attention than others, even though its effect is substantial around the globe. For example, it is estimated that more than 14,500 children under the age of twelve die from starvation in a given year. Closer to home, an estimated 1 in 6 Americans are food insecure, i.e. go to bed hungry every night.
To address this need, The Kids Coalition Against Hunger (KCAH) was founded in Michigan twenty-five years ago by Dr. Donald Burwell after being introduced to the concept by Richard Proudfood and initially operated primarily in the Midwest. The current Executive Director is Mike Burwell, the son of Donald, who has managed the organization for the past 15 years. In that time the KCAH has expanded its operations to the Northeast and broadened its Midwest footprint.
The KCAH’s objective is simple: ‘set goals and surpass them’. While COVID disrupted the operations significantly, the Coalition has packed and delivered approximately 2.5 million meals so far this year. The cost of operation is low; the organization employs just five full-time employees -- four event coordinators and one warehouse manager. This belies the amazing reach of the activities—approximately 250 events per year. As such, the KCAH depends on its ability to attract volunteers, including sponsors who provide funding for the food materials, identify and attract pools of assembly volunteers, and reserve space in suitable locations.
In early August, approximately 40 volunteers from the Ridgefield High School convened in Shield’s Hall at the Meetinghouse in Ridgebury to carry out a ‘packaging event’. This entails forming assembly lines of 12 people, adding nutritious food components to a meal bag and passing it down the line where it is filled, weighed, and ultimately packed for shipment and loaded on a truck, which is sometimes headed for loading on a plane. The RHS students were characteristically enthusiastic workers, packing 21,386 meals in just four hours.
This event was sponsored by Christie Coates, MD, who has become enamored with the work of the Coalition. She was assisted by her son Steven, who solicited friends and acquaintances from Ridgefield High School to volunteer for the Meetinghouse event. They found to their delight an avid willingness among Steven’s fellow students to participate. As Mike Burwell says, “it’s heartening to see helpers wanting to help.”, “people want to help. They just don’t know where to go or what to do.” This is why the work of the sponsors is so crucial.
Thus, in addition to the enormous benefit to the recipients of the meals, the work of the Coalition has a lasting impact on the volunteers who carry out the work. As Mike Burwell says, “It’s a blessing to be a blessing,” and , “once a humanitarian, always a humanitarian.”
The choice of location--Shields Hall at The Meetinghouse--served the purpose of the event perfectly. It is a well-known local landmark, enjoys wide-open interior spaces to accommodate assembly lines, and includes a small kitchen adjacent to the assembly room. Further, the nature of the activity meshes beautifully with two of the key pillars of the Meetinghouse’s mission: promotion of wellness and developing the community. The Meetinghouse heartily welcomes opportunities to coordinate with community groups in these two initiatives, as well as the areas of the arts, food and the land, and reclaiming the Ridgebury commons.
All in all, the Kids Coalition Against Hunger’s partnership with the Coates family, the Meetinghouse, and Ridgefield High School was a resounding success. It will feed thousands of hungry people and will enhance the rewarding spirit of generosity in all who participated.
For more information about Kids Coalition Against Hunger, please go to https://www.kidscoalitionagainsthunger.org.