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Two-day event in Willmar yields 147,750 meals for Feed My Starving Children

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Briana Sanchez / Tribune Zuber Abi, 6, helps pour grains into packages Friday at Willmar Middle School during a project to pack meals for Feed My Starving Children. 2 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Trevor Johnson, left, and Abdullahi Abdi pour rice into bins Friday at Willmar Middle School where volunteers packed meals for Feed My Starving Children. The "Manna Packs" contain rice, dried vegetables and protein. 3 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Abdullahi Abrahim pours grains into a package Friday at his station of the Feed My Starving Children mobile project at Willmar Middle School.4 / 5
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Ali Mohamed, one of the hundreds of volunteers at the Feed My Starving Children event in Willmar, cheers on his team after they finished filling up a box of food Friday at Willmar Middle School. The two-day mobile project was organized to help meet needs in Somalia, which is experiencing severe drought and famine.5 / 5

WILLMAR — It was hot Friday afternoon in the Willmar Middle School gym and many of the 165 volunteers had not eaten or even had a drink of water all day.

And yet, here they were cheerfully scooping rice, dried vegetables and protein into plastic bags and hefting heavy boxes filled with the "Manna Packs" designed to feed six each.

The volunteers packed 147,750 meals during the two-day, mobile Feed My Starving Children project in Willmar to help meet needs in Somalia, which is experiencing severe drought and famine.

Mohamed Hassan — who, like many in the gym, has family and friends affected by the famine there — was fasting from sunrise to sunset in observance of Ramadan.

While at the end of his day, Hassan knew he would have food to eat, he said many children in Somalia do not.

"People are dying," he said.

A coalition of religious and community leaders in Minnesota organized a massive campaign to send 5 million meals to Somalia. The event Friday and Saturday in Willmar augmented efforts the previous weekend in the Twin Cities to meet that goal.

"They're really the last folks that will have a chance to touch this food before it arrives at a country around the world," said David Gunnlaugsson, mobile pack development adviser for Feed My Starving Children.

The organization sends food to 70 countries. By working with organizations in the recipient countries, he said 99.7 percent of the food that's packed in Minnesota "makes it to where it's supposed to go."

All told, about 718 volunteers helped pack meals over the weekend in Willmar, bringing together people who who have deep ties to Somalia with those who have no connection other than a desire to help.

Youth in T-shirts, police officers in blue uniforms and older volunteers wearing sensible shoes worked alongside members of the Willmar mosque who were dressed in traditional, colorful garb.

For sanitary purposes, everyone wore a hairnet, which Gunnlaugsson called the great equalizer.

"There are different communities packing together here, but when you put those hairnets on, everybody's after the same thing," he said. "There are kiddos dying and that's not OK. That's really what unites us."

Gunnlaugsson said this is the first time Feed My Starving Children has partnered directly with the Minnesota Somali community for an effort like this.

"This partnership is significant," he said. "Minnesota really rose to the call."

Hassan agrees.

"This is very joyful. I'm very, very, very happy that people are coming together to help the needy," Hassan said.

"It doesn't matter where they are. If you want to help somebody, borders don't matter. Religion doesn't matter. You can help," he said.

Noelle and Mike Lee, who are both doctors in Willmar and traveled to Somalia last fall with their three young children to provide medical care there, were part of the 22-member leadership team that that helped organize the event.

Noelle Lee said their local Somali friends kept getting calls from back home about people dying of hunger and being shot while getting water at the well.

She said a broad community came together to help.

"We have Somali friends, and we have friends in our churches who love Jesus and who want to love their neighbor as themselves, who take Jesus literally," said Noelle Lee.

After the meals left Willmar, Gunnlaugsson said they would be taken to the warehouse in Eagan, put on a truck and then taken to a port to be shipped to Somalia and other countries to feed some of the 6.2 million people in the world who do not have food security.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750