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Lutherans opening hearts, pocketbooks to hungry kids

Feed My Starving Children is based in the Twin Cities

Lutherans in the metro area are making a major contribution to the work of a local, nondenominational Christian organization that is attacking a Third World problem of staggering dimensions.
The organization is Brooklyn Park-based Feed My Starving Children (FMSC). The problem: 40,000 children die of starvation every day in these impoverished nations that have been ravaged by civil wars, natural disasters and the AIDS epidemic, according to the United Nations.
Churches are by far the leading source of volunteers for packaging the food sent by FMSC to some of the world’s poorest countries, said Mark Crea, executive director. They’re followed by individuals, other community groups and businesses.
Up front among the churches supporting the work of the humanitarian agency are Lutheran ones —over 200 congregations in the Twin Cities area, according to FMSC officials. Some of the largest contributors, Crea said, are Calvary of Golden Valley, Lord of Life of Maple Grove, Mount Olivet of Minneapolis, Easter of Eagan and Prince of Peace of Burnsville.
FMSC was founded in 1987 by Richard Proudfit, owner of a small Minneapo-lis-area plastics business, who also took many trips abroad with evangelical Christian mission groups. Deeply troubled by the starvation of children he saw in Guatemala, Honduras and other Third World countries, he established the nonprofit organization to try to do something about the problem.
It took six or seven years before FMSC found the right combination of nutritious food, volunteer labor to package it and a reliable network of mission organizations in the field to distribute it. But since 1994 FMSC has produced 26 million meals for severely malnourished children, and the work is expanding rapidly.
The number of meals produced climbed from 3.3 million in 2003 to 5.8 million in 2004 — a gain of over 70%. During that same period, the number of volunteers rose from 20,000 to 31,000. Some volunteers come to the FMSC plant to prepare meals for shipment more than once during the year, Crea acknowledged, but he estimated that there were still 25,000 different individuals involved in 2004.
Three factors make Feed My Starving Children unique among similar Christian-based humanitarian agencies, Crea said.
First is the food it sends. During the initial years, FMSC workers contacted big Twin Cities food companies and got donations of such items as crackers, granola bars and cookies for shipment overseas. However, these types of food actually made severely malnourished children who received them sick, Crea said.
As a result, the agency got leading food scientists from Cargill Incorporated, General Mills, Pillsbury and other companies to work on a formula for a truly nutritious meal that would turn starving children into healthy ones.
Under the leadership of Dick Fulmer of Cargill, the scientists came up with a food product that combined what Crea calls a “powerhouse” of 17 vitamins and minerals, dehydrated vegetables for color and flavor, protein-rich soy nuggets and rice.
Packed into a plastic bag in the proper portions, this mix of ingredients can be emptied into a container of boiling water at the recipient site for 20 minutes, and it will provide a meal for six children. Often it will be the only meal the children receive during a day, but it has all the nutritional content they need.
After finding the right formula for the food to ship abroad, FMSC struggled to find an efficient way to produce the meals in sufficient quantities to meet the huge need. Early tests of packaging machines showed that they were too expensive and cumbersome.
But when a church group stopped by the FMSC plant in 1993 to see whether there was a way they could provide volunteer help, a solution to the problem of large-scale packaging emerged. Working in teams of 40 people, volunteers could use measuring spoons and cups to pour the proper amounts of the ingredients into plastic pouches, seal them and load them into big cartons for shipping. Such a group could produce 5,000-7,000 meals in two hours.
From that time on, FMSC has recruited volunteers in large numbers — 80 percent of them under the age of 18. Church youth groups show great enthusiasm and dedication for the work when they realize that what they are doing will save lives, according to Crea.
“For lots of Lutheran kids this can be a life-changing experience,” the director said.
The final problem to be solved was establishing a distribution network that would make sure that the meals got to the places where they were needed and none of the food was wasted.
FMSC made arrangements with various organizations across the humanitarian-aid spectrum, groups that had shown their expertise in operating orphanages, schools and clinics in Third World countries to handle distribution of the food. These organizations pay for shipping the pallets loaded with cartons of meals from the FMSC plant to port cities in the United States. From there they go by ocean vessels to some 25 countries where FMSC is currently active, then into the interior sites where FMSC operates.
Feed My Starving Children is planning to increase its food shipments substantially in 2005, be-cause of both greater needs abroad and expansion of its production and distribution system.
The FMSC target for 2005 is preparation of 8.2 million meals and the involvement of 48,000 volunteers.
The organization made an immediate commitment of one million meals for children orphaned by the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia at the beginning of the year, and that need will grow and be long-term, according to Crea. But FMSC cannot reduce its commitment to Liberia, Haiti and the many other countries it now serves.
A second plant opened in Eagan last fall. And, there’s a new arrangement, under which high school youths participating in Lutheran Youth Encounter programs in nine U.S. cities will package meals using equipment and food ingredients sent by truck from FMSC headquarters. These factors will boost the organization’s production capacity.
Still it will require more money and volunteers to meet the goals FMSC has set.
The fact that just $10 will feed 60 children for a day and that 92% of every dollar goes directly to feeding children should encourage contributions from people of even modest means, Crea believes.
And, what the director calls “the powerful experience” volunteers get when they see that the work of their hands will result in the saving of a human life, makes him optimistic that the increase in volunteer workers by 17,000 can be achieved.
“The Minneapolis and St. Paul Area Synods of the ELCA could fill that in the blink of an eye,” Crea said. An effort in the LCMS’ Minnesota South District could have similar results.
When one looks at the big picture of the number of kids dying — 40,000 every day — the problem looks huge, Crea admits.
But, he says, by the end of this year, with two sites operating full blast and a mobile packing program with Lutheran Youth En-counter taking hold, FMSC will come close to producing 40,000 meals a day.
If the FMSC model could be expanded from two sites in one metropolitan area to a dozen sites around the country, Crea said, “then [I’m confident that] we could cut those 40,000 deaths in half.”
For more information, call 763/504-2919, or visit www.