SYCAMORE – In 2001, Greg Howells went to Bolivia with his sons, Jacob and Joel. It was a trip he wouldn’t soon forget.
“That was the first I experienced severe poverty,” Howells said of his trip, the first of many. “It has an impact on you when you see it, smell it, feel it, experience it.”
His experience eventually inspired Howells and his wife, Sherri, to organize the first Feed My Starving Children event at Cornerstone Christian Academy at 355 N. Cross St. in Sycamore in 2010.
Among the people who helped out during “Make a Difference 2K10” was Tim Suter, the president and CEO of The Suter Company, a food manufacturing company in Sycamore. Suter reached out to Howells, telling him that if he ever planned to do the event again, he could do so at his company’s facility at 1015 Bethany Road.
“I knew our facility would have the perfect layout,” Suter said.
Enter Make a Difference 2K12: a four-day weekend in which over 3,700 people will donate their time and energy to pack at least 750,000 meals to feed starving children in 70 countries.
Suter expressed hope that they would pack at least 800,000 meals; the event’s Thursday night projection of 187,500 meals packed was exceeded by at least 17,000.
On Friday, two shifts of 320 people gathered onto the main floor of The Suter Company in Sycamore, hoping to pack at least 125,000 meals in four hours. Each meal, said Heidi Wright, vice president of marketing and sales at The Suter Company, feeds six children.
A Christian nonprofit organization, Feed My Starving Children has permanent sites in the Midwest, but volunteer organizers like the Howellses set up mobile pack sites for the agency.
“We’re providing meals to kids who, without these meals, would die,” Howellis said.
By 5 p.m. Sunday, volunteers at the DeKalb-Sycamore FMSC events will have packed at least 2.1 million meals since the event’s inception in 2010. They also will have raised over $500,000 for it as well, Howells said.
“As long as there are starving children in the world, our fundraising efforts will never end,” Howells said.
Getting volunteers for the event is easy. Howells said the event “sold out” within the first day. The volunteers are divided into groups of 10 to 12, and each person is given a specific job at their station. Some will pack in rice and soy, while others seal the meal packs.
Wright said each meal pack contains rice, soy, vegetables and a veggie powder loaded with vitamins and nutrients.
“These meals have the ability to dramatically reduce malnutrition,” Wright said. “All they need to do is boil water.”
Jasmine Maclin, a freshman elementary education major at Northern Illinois University, scooped a certain amount of rice and soy into the many meal packs they had. Each group works an assembly line with everyone doing their own part.
“Some people lose sight of the greater things we have in life,” Maclin said. “It’s good to step up and realize people have much less than you.”
Maclin was one of 43 people from NIU’s track and field team to volunteer at FMSC, said head coach Connie Teaberry. Teaberry said events like these are “about being helpful, being humble and giving back.”
“Our team, our staff agreed that we don’t want anyone to be hungry,” Teaberry said.
That desire to help others is what lead 12-year-old Nolan Govig and 13-year-old Allie Schneider to volunteer for Feed My Starving Children twice this weekend. In addition to their Friday night shifts, Govig said he volunteered Thursday, while Schneider said she will volunteer again Sunday.
“I feel like this is where we should be helping starving children,” Govig said.