Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. Wearing white plastic hair covers and gloves, the workers sat or stood at their stations, focused but carrying on sometimes humorous banter as they carried on their task in the mass production line.
They came in both sexes, and their ages ranged from three years old to 91 as they filled bags with vitamins, 26 nutrients, soy, vegetables, and rice, weighed the bags and packaged them. Each bag held six meals. The goal was 10,000 meals, six to a bag.
Baylee DeLaurier from Kansas City, of Stop Hunger Now, came to Nederland, to TEENS Inc., with everything needed to do the packing. All she needed was the assembly line workers to put the bags together and prepare them for sending to people to stave off the hunger that is pervasive in impoverished countries.
Baylee says that the program has partnered with Heinz, who reformatted the meals to make them more nutritious.
“Yup, I came from Kansas City to work with you guys tonight,” said Baylee.
About 30 people gathered at the Teen Center last Wednesday night to join in the packing event. Hansen Wendlandt, pastor of the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church, had participated in similar events in Charlotte, North Carolina, over the years and ever since he moved to Nederland has been wanting to organize one in this community. He contacted Baylee and the event was organized. The Teen Center and the Peak to Peak Rotary also adopted the program as sponsors.
Every time 1,000 meals were packed, Baylee struck the bronze gong and workers stopped what they were doing, for just one second, and cheered. Then it was back to the bags and the soy and rice. It took about three hours to complete the task.
The boxes of meals will go on to Kansas City and wait there until there are enough boxes to fill a 40-foot container holding 285,000. The meals will be delivered to one of 30 countries.
Crystal Epperson, 91, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Rollinsville in the summer, smiled large as she worked the vitamin packet into the plastic bag. She said she had been coming to the mountains since 1960, when her parents bought a cabin in Rollinsville to celebrate her coming home from Vietnam after 30 years as a lieutenant in the Air Force.
When Crystal is in town, she enjoys going to senior luncheons and finding out the latest news. She had a hip replacement recently but says she doesn’t take any pills and she was happy to come and help.
Sam Churches, a recent Nederland High School graduate, strummed the guitar, setting up a working rhythm, and Natalia Garcia-Upczak was the go-to girl, picking up the filled cartons and bringing back empty cartons to fill.
When the packing was finished, everyone got to try some of the meals they had created. They were hearty, filling, and definitely needed salt and pepper. But when one is hungry, flavor is not a priority.
At the end of the evening, there was a sense of accomplishment and many of the volunteers went home knowing they had just made some new friends.