South Charlotte

Group lines up to help hungry children

In only a few hours, several assembly lines of volunteers can pack enough food to feed hungry children for months.

This year, volunteers at Kids Against Hunger Charlotte have assembled 600,000 meals, each a mixture of rice, vitamin powder, crushed soy and dehydrated vegetables. The meals are shipped to Managua, Nicaragua, where they are distributed to hungry children.

"If somebody comes to a packing event, they keep coming back," said Suzanne Yoh, who founded the Charlotte chapter of Kids Against Hunger with her husband, Jeff. "You feel like you did something.

"It's a tiny thing, but in two hours you can pack enough food yourself to feed a child for a year."

The meals, which volunteers can sample, can be cooked into a rice casserole and provide enough nourishment for a child for a day.

Before connecting with the national Kids Against Hunger organization, the Yohs were thinking about a way to affect change in the world after their youngest child, now 13, graduates from high school.

The Yohs, who live in south Charlotte, wanted something they could do together. The two "fell in love" with the concept of packing food for children, Suzanne Yoh said.

They liked the fact that, after learning about world hunger, "15 minutes later you could actually be doing something about it," she said.

The Yohs paid the franchise fee for Kids Against Hunger and bought the equipment for package assembly. A Samaritans International of Waxhaw warehouse stores the equipment, and the Samaritans group ships the packages to Nicaragua.

Kids Against Hunger Charlotte hosts packing events at schools, churches, youth camps and businesses. The organization pays 15 cents per meal and provides volunteers and space for assembling the packages. The Yohs provide the food and assembly equipment.

The first packing event was in February, and organizations that have hosted events since include Charlotte Christian School and Harrison United Methodist Church.

At the beginning of a packing event, volunteers watch a 10-minute video about the Yohs' recent trip to Nicaragua.

"People can see what the environment is like there, what the kids look like and who they are feeding," Suzanne Yoh said. "It's a lot of information, but it helps people understand what a problem hunger is around the world."

Volunteers then are organized into assembly lines, where they measure and bag food, seal bags and pack meals into boxes.

"It's a fun event," Suzanne Yoh said. "There's a lot of camaraderie at your table."

She said children as young as 4 and 5 can help package food, and children even younger can decorate the boxes in which the food is packed.

The Yohs don't keep any money donated to the organization; all proceeds go to packing food.

Monetary donations could help the Yohs provide packing events for groups that can't afford to buy the meals.

The Yohs also are looking for groups that would like to host a packing event and volunteers to help package food. "We have all of this equipment, and we would love for it to be in use every week," Yoh said.