For the fourth year in a row, the Grand Avenue Elementary School gymnasium will transform into a bustling, noisy, harried room full of apron-wearing, hair-netted and latex-gloved volunteers rushing to pack as many Manna Pack rice food mixtures as possible.
The event starts Oct. 22 and goes through Oct. 24.
The food packs are shipped overseas to countries in which food is often scarce. The annual event has so far resulted in 1,032,148 meals shipped overseas, and shared 48,909 pounds of food with the Sauk Prairie Food Pantry.
The event typically draws more than 1,200 volunteers from Thursday at 9:30 a.m. through Saturday 1 p.m.
“Sauk Prairie Against Hunger’s mission is raising awareness that there are hungry people locally and around the world,” 6:8 co-director John Ramthun said.
During the event, groups compete in a can creation contest in which participants make artistic statues made of cans of food that are given to the food pantry.
Director Carol Gagnon said it’s a major event for the pantry as the holiday season approaches and demand for help increases. “We see a lot more families between September and December,” Gagnon said. “That’s our holiday season and it kicks off with the homecoming parade when the National Honor Society collects cans of food. That’s the first reminder to the community while other places start their food drives. The can creation event gets us through until those other deliveries come in.”
Some food packs from the Feed My Starving Children event are also contributed to the pantry.
“You just add boiling water and you have a complete meal of good nutrition,” Gagnon said.
The food pantry isn’t just about providing food, though. Last year, along with the can creation sculptures, came a giant pyramid of 3,000 rolls of toilet paper.
“Instead of giving out one roll per month, we gave out 12 rolls,” Gagnon said. “When patrons came through our line, they were giving me hugs. It’s a huge need.”
She said Village Family Dental employees are spending the month of October wearing Sauk Prairie Against Hunger buttons and are donating tooth brushes.
“That’s really appreciated,” Gagnon said. “Think about the dental bills they’re helping to save with those.”
Gagnon said the proceeds from the Prairie du Sac Farmers Market every summer is also a big help. Bake sales are held there, with all proceeds going to the food pantry.
Sue and Fritz Dohm are among the organizers of the farmers market. This year, the Dohms donated $2,000 to the pantry.
“All the proceeds from our vegetable table go to the Food Pantry,” Sue Dohm said. “It’s heart-breaking when we see kids in line with their parents waiting to get their food at the pantry.”
She will make pies for a bake sale that goes on outside the gymnasium during the food pack event. She spends hours in her own kitchen baking, with the crust made from scratch and fresh apples.
“Sure it’s hard work, but I enjoy doing it,” she said. “It’s for such a good cause.”
Ramthun said the food pack event can get emotional when representatives of the Feed My Starving Children program show before-and-after photos of starving children in other countries that benefit from the food and become healthy.
“People are laughing and crying, but when all is said and done, they just fed 1,000 kids for a year who may otherwise have died,” Ramthun said. “That’s what they did for a weekend. The byproduct of having a good time is doing something so good. You can’t replace that.”
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