As we join together with friends and family this season (although at smaller gatherings than usual), it’s a good time to remember and take action for those who aren’t able to enjoy a large holiday meal.

That’s where our Charity Alliance partner Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) comes in. The charity brings hope to underserved communities by delivering nutritious meals that meet the needs of undernourished people.

FMSC is able to reach people in need around the world with the help of donors, partners and the volunteers who give their time to pack hundreds of millions of meals each year. So, when the charity was forced to close down their public meal packing in March due to COVID-19, they found themselves having to rethink their model and explore alternative packing solutions to continue safely producing meals for people in need.

Though initially optimistic that this would only be a brief break in its usual operations, the event closure ended up being extended from its initial three days, to a month – and then to the unforeseeable future.

Suddenly FMSC was faced with uncertainties: How could volunteers safely pack meals? How could FMSC receive the needed ingredients? Would they still be able to deliver meals to communities around the world?

But FMSC didn’t lose faith. They had weathered disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and droughts many times before – this crisis was not going to stop them from getting food to those in need.

Alternative packing solutions
In a process that would typically take months or years, FMSC developed an alternative solution only nine days after it was forced to halt its in-person packing events. Turning to its vitamin powder suppliers, Karlsburger Foods, Inc., FMSC was able to implement a new, machine-based process that produces large bags of 260 servings, perfect for distributions to large group settings like schools and orphanages.

By early May, the charity was able to deliver nearly 6 million meals through this process, sending shipments to Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Burkina Faso and El Salvador. The charity was also able to further grow this process with two additional companies in Minnesota and Utah.

FMSC also received helping hands from correctional facilities. Building off an already established partnership, FMSC evolved their MobilePack experiences with correctional facilities into a long-term packing site at the Minnesota Correctional Facility. The men there were eager to throw on their gloves and hairnets once again to be able to give back and have a positive impact on children’s lives around the globe. The group packed 34,128 meals in just the first day and a half. The opportunity continued to grow to allow inmates to join in nine shifts each week, using a special setup that allows for social distancing. The program ultimately impacted lives around the world before eventually coming to a close.

Socially-distanced meal packing 
FMSC feeds not just the bodies, but also the spirits of children and communities around the world – including its volunteers. FMSC’s meal packing events provide volunteers with an engaging and impactful opportunity to give back – and many missed that feeling when FMSC was forced to shut down their packing events.

With this in mind, FMSC has established a core team that has been working hard to develop processes to allow volunteers to return to meal packing opportunities safely. They are excited to now be welcoming volunteers back at all of their permanent packing centers.

Each packing site has been modified to allow for social distancing and align with federal and state safety guidelines. FMSC has reduced the capacity of volunteers at each site to allow enough room for proper distancing between groups, and each volunteer is required to wear face coverings through the entire process and will have their temperatures checked at the door.

Small volunteer groups of five (or a “quaranteam” as FMSC has begun referring to them) are invited to reserve shifts at one of the FMSC’s centers in Arizona, Illinois, Minnesota and Texas.

Three people packing food in socially-distanced pods.

Battling through uncertainty
Between March 2019 and February 2020, before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, FMSC provided over 368 million meals packed by more than 1.4 million volunteers. This year they are hopeful to be able to serve 280 million meals – with the help of machine packing and only 25% of the volunteers.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization has warned of “a looming food crisis” and devastating effects on hunger around the globe as a result of COVID-19, especially in vulnerable and underserved communities. FMSC has seen a greater need for support from their partners than ever before, frequently hearing the worry that “it’s not the virus that will kill us, it’s the hunger.”

Funding to produce these meals is critical. While FMSC’s mechanized packing solution has allowed them to continue their work delivering vital meals and increased efficiency, it has also been more expensive than their previous volunteer-only model.

Additionally, FMSC has seen a decrease in donations from their typical volunteer base that falls in line with the lack of volunteer opportunities. Although FMSC is working slowly to bring their meal packing events to full capacity and have received positive feedback from volunteers that they felt safe and comfortable during these socially distanced packing events, the upcoming winter months bring a lot of uncertainties about how COVID-19 will evolve and FMSC’s ability to continue and grow their packing events. The safety of FMSC’s staff and volunteers is a top priority as the situation continues to change, which could mean having to close down their packing sites again.

Continuing to offer hope and feed spirits
As we have begun to experience the secondary effects of COVID-19, we are seeing the evolution of a hunger crisis that threatens to double the amount of people on the brink of starvation and leave 265 million unsure of their next meal.

A smiling woman stands in front of several people, all of them holding boxes with MannaPack rice.

In spite of the many obstacles and challenges facing FMSC during these unprecedented times, the charity has not lost faith and remains unfaltering in its commitment to serve children in need across the world. Its in-country partners have stopped receiving many of the resources they used to rely on, but they continue to see support from FMSC.

FMSC will continue to produce food as long as it is able – and as long as we can help. You can work with FMSC to turn hunger into hope:

  • Fund meals for communities around the globe by supporting FMSC through your workplace giving campaign. Giving at work is convenient and can amplify your generosity and impact. Stretch your gift further by visiting FMSC’s website to see if your employer will match your contribution!
  • Start your own fundraiser by creating a complimentary online fundraising page and share with your networks on your website and social media. Need some ideas? Visit FMSC’s fundraising ideas page.
  • Watch FMSC’s recent virtual mission trip and gala to experience the charity’s work first-hand with partners in Haiti. Thanks to generous supporters, FMSC raised enough funds to feed 15,068 children a meal a day for a year!
  • Support artisan partners from communities that receive FMSC food by doing your holiday shopping at the FMSC Market Place. Each purchase strengthens families and communities, and profits fund meals for kids around the world.
  • Go volunteer! If you live near one of the FMSC packing sites, gather four family members, friends or colleagues to pack meals and give back.
  • Are you a federal employee? Support FMSC through the Combined Federal Campaign with #10384.
  • Mark your calendar for Dec. 1 and make your impact this Giving Tuesday by supporting FMSC through our COVID-19 Relief Fund!