What started in January with children tossing quarters into collection cans finished Saturday with more than 60,000 meals packed and ready to ship to needy families locally and abroad.
"For me, it's just been an inspiring and humbling experience," said organizer John Ranthum of 6:8 Ministries of Prairie du Sac, who led the effort with his wife Sarah and five Madison-area Catholic parishes as a shared Lenten mission.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., some 270 volunteers bagged dry ingredients to assemble the meals in the basement of the Catholic Multicultural Center at 1862 Beld St.
When mixed with boiling water, each plastic bag makes six nutritious meals of rice, soy, dried vegetables and a vitamin/mineral mix with a chicken flavoring,
"With more than 1 billion people in the world with hunger issues, you can ask yourself, 'What can I do with such a big problem?'" Ranthum said. "This shows we can do (something) — and 60,000 meals is no small feat, either."
At a cost to organizers of 25 cents per meal, the parishes raised a total of $15,000, through T-shirt sales and cash donations, including $3,300 from classroom drives.
"That enabled kids to feel like they could be part of the solution," said Cheryl Horne, youth minister at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Madison. "It started with kids donating quarters in coffee cans at school and church."
On Saturday, volunteers stood at several long tables, working together in two-hour shifts to measure, pour and mix the ingredients, then seal and box the bags.
The Janesville chapter of Kids Against Hunger, a national nonprofit, helped organizers buy the ingredients in bulk.
Ranthum said 80 percent of the meals will stay in Wisconsin, with the rest split between other U.S. locations and overseas missions that have connections with the parishes.