A campaign to feed the hungry


The first shipment of 287,000 meals — accompanied by clothing and shoes — went to Swaziland, an impoverished nation near the southern tip of Africa where people generally don’t live past age 50, due to the ravages of HIV/AIDS and TB.

Next month, Haiti — one of the poorest countries in the world — is slated to get 284,000 packaged meals as part of a second delivery.

Both these and future transports are originating from an organization called Stop Hunger Now which opened a New York City Metro Area collection/transport center at a warehouse space at River Terminal in South Kearny.

Stop Hunger Now says its mission is “to end hunger in our lifetime by providing food and life-changing aid to the world’s most vulnerable [by] creating a global commitment to mobilize the necessary resources.

“Since our founding in 1998, we have provided over 225 million meals in 73 countries. This year, we will package 45 million meals and ship over $9 million in donated aid, mainly vitamins and medical supplies.”

The group says it runs meal-packaging programs in 20 cities in the U.S. and in South Africa, Malaysia, India, Peru and the Philippines, recruiting volunteers from corporate, educational, civic- and faith-based sources to assemble the packages that it transports to domestic and overseas destinations. It relies on private donations to buy and ship the food and aid packages.

Its founder is Ray Buchanan, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam and ordained United Methodist minister who spent 18 years as co-director of the Society of St. Andrew, a Virginia-based domestic food-relief organization.

The Observer got a recent tour of the group’s River Terminal location, where program manager Steve Reiss and assistant manager Bruce Ladson were getting the raw materials ready for upcoming packaging and shipment.

Reiss credited River Terminal owner Rob Neu – who had previously volunteered at one of the group’s meal packaging sessions – with offering even more support by leasing it 10,000 square feet of space for three years at very favorable terms.

From here, Reiss and Ladson coordinate the delivery of raw product to the warehouse, prepare product for packaging by a volunteer-service organization and, ultimately, arrange for the packages to be shipped out.

Stop Hunger Now is perhaps unique among such relief groups in that it brings the food materials directly to the volunteers for packaging, said Reiss, “although we are open for folks to come here, if the organization doesn’t have enough room for the set-up.”

Sometimes, he added, the packaging is incorporated as part of a special event like a birthday party with a humanitarian cause built into it.

Whatever the occasion, the Stop Hunger Now operatives have the process down to a carefully planned science.

Reiss and Ladson arrive at a volunteer site 90 minutes early to assemble tables, separate out the key ingredients – Gulf Pacific rice, Cargill soy, Kraft Heinz dehydrated vegetables and vitamin packs – that will make up the package, zip-lock bags, buckets, funnels and a scale to measure precise portions.

When all of those things are in place, they give a five- to seven-minute talk about the goals and objectives of the program. Next, they outline detailed instructions on the task ahead: preparing the product as ready for transport.

Then, the volunteers go into action, carefully measuring each of the ingredients for an amount weighing “between 389 and 394 grams” so that, combined into one bag, each provides enough nutrients to feed up to six individuals, according to Reiss.

As pop music plays in the background, volunteers pack bags of meals in boxes, each containing 216 meals, which are placed on pallets stacked six boxes high, with each pallet holding 14,124 meals, and then fitted into containers for transport to their final destinations, he said.

“Typically, we need 40 to 45 volunteers to package 10,000 meals in 90 minutes,” Reiss said. “After every thousand meals, we ring a gong as a kind of celebratory moment.”

A volunteer group is asked to donate 29¢ per meal to help cover the costs of materials and shipping, he said.

The food is sent to schools in the countries receiving shipments where Stop Hunger Now partner organizations ensure that the meals go to those in need of them, particularly hungry children who are then encouraged to attend school, improve their nutritional health, develop viable skills, provide for their families, ultimately “breaking the cycle of poverty,” said Reiss.

But for these programs, Reiss said, “a lot of children would die. “Six years ago, for example, surveys told us that 28% of kids attending a school in Nicaragua were malnourished but today, it’s 0% because of our meals going there.”

If for some reason, Stop Hunger Now ends up with surplus meals, there’s no danger of the food rotting because “each bag has a shelf life of two years,” Reiss said.

It’s relatively easy for volunteer groups to schedule meal-packaging projects – Stop Hunger Now staff can make themselves available “weekdays and weekends,” Reiss noted. In the past month alone, staff from the South Kearny site have worked with volunteers from Westchester County, N.Y., North Jersey, Newark, Jersey City and Kearny.

“We don’t advertise,” Reiss said. “It’s all word of mouth.”

And, clearly, the word has spread.

For more information about the organization and how to get involved, people are invited to check out its website stophungernow.org or email newyork@stophungernow.org.

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