Thu, Feb. 27

Commentary: Kids Against Hunger success anchored in Verde Valley's giving spirit

The Verde Valley has always been known for its spirit of volunteerism. That was never more evident than during Saturday's Kids Against Hunger event at the Verde Valley Fairgrounds.

I've served with this organization since its inception. During Saturday's event, I reminded our president Bob Shimko that when we did our first event in April 2011, our team of volunteers worked a 14-hour day to package 28,000 meals.

Saturday, we worked for roughly 12 hours to produce 250,124 meals.

The difference between then and now is twofold. First, we have learned a lot as we have done all these different events over the past three and a half years. We have greatly improved our assembly-line efficiency.

More importantly, we have a lot more help than we did when we first began this endeavor. During Saturday's event, we had more than 500 packing volunteers work three different 2-hour shifts and each group succeeded in packing more than 80,000 meals. In addition, we had more than 100 volunteers provide support service all day Saturday as well as during our set-up for the event Friday.

All of our volunteers are important, but it bears special emphasis of how our organization has been unofficially adopted by the Cottonwood and Verde Valley fire departments almost from the very beginning of this journey.

Last year, I was driving a truck back to Cottonwood from Surprise, Arizona, with several tons of new food product as well as all of our line equipment. Upon my arrival to our warehouse, there were more than a dozen firemen waiting for me. They unloaded the truck in short order and it made for the perfect ending to my day.

This past weekend we had firemen from both departments helping with the Friday set-up, and Saturday the Cottonwood firemen manned a product assembly line for two shifts in between service and medical emergency calls.

We saw the same spirit of volunteerism from a host of churches in the Verde Valley and students from elementary age to high school. Young and old alike all rolled up their sleeves to help us get the job done. A quarter of a million-plus meals.

With this event, we've developed a new product that will be distributed 100 percent locally to schools, senior centers, missions, churches, food banks and other organizations dedicated to feeding the hungry.

In addition, we will continue our distribution to third-world countries where childhood starvation is epidemic. Thanks to the network of someone who knows someone who knows someone, we're able to deliver meals to such outposts as Haiti and the Philippines for next to nothing thanks to the folks at Luke Air Force Base and the U.S. Navy's humanitarian aid relief efforts that ship from Florida.

At every step of the way in the journey of Manzanita Outreach/Verde Valley Kids Against Hunger, our organization has never lacked for anything. Initially, Verde Valley Medical Center allowed us to use the top floor of their new facility to store our product and supplies. We now have our own warehouse thanks to Verde Valley Christian Church. Every time we've had to make a big-ticket purchase for supplies, or most recently a new fork lift, we've had enough money to meet our needs, with much of it coming from anonymous donors.

Our success story is very similar to the way Tom Sawyer got his fence painted.

You guys deserve all the credit.

Verde Valley Newspapers editor Dan Engler is a member of the board of directors for Manzanita Outreach/Verde Valley Kids Against Hunger. Since its inception, the organization has packaged more than 800,000 meals.

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