Packaging love and nutrients for Puerto Rico

St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Dover hosts a community building event to package meals for those who are food insecure in Puerto Rico. Photos by Laura Drinan

By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter

It seems almost impossible to create 20 thousand meals in just two hours. When the community gets together to do it, though, it’s an easy task. On April 6, members of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Dover partnered with the Outreach Project to create packaged meals for those in Puerto Rico still suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

“We thought, ‘Where would this make the greatest impact and where’s the greatest need right now?’” said Rev. Sean Leonard. “After the hurricane and all that, we really wanted to do something that could help.”

The meals consisted of fortified rice and beans, and included a seasoning packet, which also provided enough vitamins a child requires every day. The contents are dry, which helps to preserve the meal’s shelf life, but can be easily cooked in boiling water in 10 to 12 minutes.

The packages that the rice and beans are stored in also do not require its recipient to know English or know how to read; the preparation instructions include easy-to-follow pictures that are universally understood.

“At every one of these events, I just say I’m like the flower delivery guy, except I come and bring the flower shop to you,” said Matthew Martin, the Outreach Program’s coordinator. “I help you arrange the flowers and you give them to somebody who needs them. Except it’s with food.”

The Outreach Program will hold its eight hundredth event later this month and has worked with both faith and non-faith groups in 21 states.

At the tables set up downstairs at the church, 10 volunteers wore hairnets and gloves as they crowded around each station and performed a task in an assembly line type of format. While some were responsible for scooping rice or lentils into the bag, others stuck a seasoning packet into the bag, and some helped to seal the bags and lay them out on the table.

The Dover Church also got involved and sponsored one of the five tables.

During the hour they volunteer, each participant can package over 200 meals. Even children – some of them barely tall enough to see into the buckets of rice and beans – were welcomed to join.

“It’s one of the few service projects that a family can do together, which is why it’s so appealing,” said Carol Chirico.

The project also helps families approach the subject of hunger with their young children, who may not realize it is an existing issue.

While the majority of the food would be going to Puerto Rico, there is, unfortunately, no shortage of need locally. Several boxes were set aside to be dropped off at Boston-based food pantries to assist those here in Massachusetts who are struggling with hunger and food insecurity.

“It’s been really nice to have the community come together,” said Amelia Slawsby. “So we’re really excited.”

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