Packaging food for others

During the week, thousands of meals are eaten in the cafeteria at the Fort Dodge Middle School.

On Saturday, several hundred students and volunteers from the community turned that around. They packaged meals – a lot of them – 40,000, to be exact.

Maddie Rowe, 16, of Fort Dodge, volunteered, unlike most Saturday mornings when she would normally be at work.

“I asked for the morning off,” she said,

Rowe was leading the shouting at her table. When they emptied a box of ingredients or produced a meal that was the perfect weight, a loud cheer went up.

The meals produced will stay in Fort Dodge.

“I like the idea that we’re helping out people in our community,” Rowe said.

The food packaging event is a joint effort of Fort Dodge Senior High and the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, which paid for the ingredients.

Amy Bruno, project coordinator for the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, wore a big smile as she watched the students and community members package meals.

“These kids have been amazing,” Bruno said.

BreAnn VanDeer, of Fort Dodge, said she was giving up her normal Saturday morning – family time or work.

“It’s nice to do something for Fort Dodge,” she said.

Juli and Steve Springer, of Fort Dodge, didn’t give up family time, they turned the event into family time with their son, Sawyer, 12.

“We planned this all week,” Steve Springer said.

Sawyer Springer was enjoying the day. He got to scoop up the elbow macaroni that goes into the meal.

“It’s good that we get to help out people,” he said.

There was one side effect for the family, though.

“It will make us hungry for mac and cheese,” Juli Springer admitted.

The family was planning to prepare the classic meal later, using a favorite recipe.

“A fine prepackaged box,” she said.

Peg Christensen, the at-risk coordinator at FDSH, said about 150 students from her school and St. Edmond High School attended Saturday’s event.

Each package is one meal for six people, she said. It’s not just macaroni and cheese; there are added ingredients that provide additional vitamins and minerals.

Half of the meals – 20,000 – will be distributed through the Backpack Buddies program. The program provides food for the weekend to at-risk students.

The meals will also be distributed through local food pantries, as well as Athletics for Education and Success, the Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center, Beacon of Hope shelter, the YWCA and Upper Des Moines Opportunity.

Todd Constable, a FDSH teacher, helped the students organize the event. He said it offers them many important lessons in teamwork and coming together to do something positive for their community.

“They get their hands dirty,” he said. “It really gives them an understanding of what it means to help.”

Christensen said that because the packaged meals stay in the community, the people the students help might very well be a friend or family member.

“They might even be packaging for themselves,” she said.