By Barb Arland-Fye
John Kessler counted slowly to six, and then told children wearing aprons emblazoned with the words “Kids Against Hunger” that every six seconds a child somewhere in the world dies of hunger.
Kessler showed the religious education students at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire photographs of a malnourished child who has grown into a healthy, smiling teenager, thanks to meals packaged by Kids Against Hunger.
The LeClaire parish’s students didn’t take their eyes off Kessler, president of Kids Against Hunger — Your Quad Cities, as he demonstrated how to prepare the nutritious, dehydrated mixture of rice, vegetables, soy and vitamins for packaging. These young students — ages 3 on up — wanted to prevent other kids from going hungry.
Kessler showed the students how to measure, mix, weigh and seal the ingredients in an assembly line and, as an incentive, told them they could ring a cow bell when a completed package weighed the right amount – 395 to 400 grams.
As soon as he gave the signal, the students and adult helpers began scooping and measuring ingredients. The sound of grain swooshing through funnels mingled with the tinkle of the cow bell and the animated voices of children and adults.
In just one hour, Kessler promised the students, they would prepare 5,600 meals for hungry children in Nicaragua, Honduras or Haiti. Ten percent of the meals would remain in the Quad-City area to help feed hungry children closer to home. Each prepared package serves six meals, which are simple to cook once the recipients receive them: just add boiling water.
Student bake sales and other parish funds provided the $1,400 needed to purchase, package and ship the meals, said Roberta Pegorick, Our Lady of the River’s director of religious education. The idea for the event — to be held on a Sunday during religious education classes — came from the parish’s Faith Formation Commission.
“We wanted an event that took longer than 15 minutes, but I didn’t know how long it would take them. It’s based on how fast they work down the line,” Pegorick said. The event couldn’t have been a better educational experience, having followed a vocations talk by Father Thom Hennen, director of vocations for the Diocese of Davenport. He stayed to watch the children get started and remarked, “What a great Lenten activity!”
Enthusiasm from students and adults convinced Pegorick this should be a repeat event. “Two of the kids came up and thanked me afterwards. I thought, ‘How cool is that!’ Students don’t typically thank me for a day of religious education,” Pegorick said. “This is a day they will walk away from and never forget.”
Parishioner Kathy Cox, one of a number of adults who donned an apron to assist the students, emailed Pegorick afterwards and said, “Their faces tell such a story. Wonderful community service event. Thank you for letting me witness to it.”
Kids Against Hunger – Your Quad Cities is part of a nationwide organization that has provided more than 100 million meals for children and their families in more than 40 countries. Kessler and his wife, Gail, started the Quad-City affiliate in 2009 and look forward to seeing the one-millionth meal packaged this spring in our region.
The Kesslers have learned a lot from the approximately 150 packaging events they’ve overseen. According to John, the most important lesson they’ve learned: “You can do something about world hunger and make a difference.”
For more information about Kids Against Hunger, visit the website: www.kidsagainsthunger.org.