On Sept. 8, as many settled into an afternoon of football watching, a crowd gathered at Blount Community Church for an important assignment.
The 500 who signed up for the Rise Against Hunger project had their sights set on packing 60,000 individual meals to be sent to poverty-stricken areas around the globe.
It is the second time BCC has participated.
Zack McPherson, social media coordinator for BCC, said the group of 500 volunteers was broken down into three sessions.
The first was for young families with children, with child care provided.
Everyone else was assigned to the other two sessions.
“We fell in love with what they do,” McPherson said, referring to Rise Against Hunger.
The organization’s global headquarters is in Raleigh, North Carolina, but it also has a presence in Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago and outside the U.S. in India, Italy, Malaysia and the Philippines.
It was started by a retired United Methodist minister.
The approach centers on mobilizing a global network of “hunger champions.”
Meal-packing volunteers annually produce millions of meals that then are distributed to partners in countries around the world.
Rise Against Hunger also responds to crises that might include droughts and floods.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, malnutrition is the single-largest contributor to disease. The FAO is a special agency of the United Nations and leads an international effort to defeat hunger. The food from Rise Against Hunger, McPherson said, arrives at BCC on a large semi-truck.
The food is loaded onto pallets and then volunteers begin packaging the individual meals, which include rice and other non-perishable foods. Last year, BCC had 500 volunteers and was expecting the similar numbers on Sept. 8.
“It has been a mixed bag of participants,” McPherson said. “It was mostly our church, but several outside the church have signed up.”
A community comes together
The project was set to be held from 3:30-8:30 p.m. Sept. 8.
McPherson said it generally takes the entire time. Most volunteers will be there for an hour, while BCC staffers will remain all day.
The food BCC packaged last year was shipped to the Dominican Republic.
Those who signed up to take part in the effort also made a monetary donation to cover the cost of the food.
McPherson said the church makes up the difference.
The cost is about $19,000.
BCC was established in 2006 and first began meeting at Maryville College and then Alcoa High School.
The first Sunday in its permanent home was in September 2015.
The location is on West Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville.
There are two pastors, Jeff Fuchs and Kenny Crook.
The sanctuary seats 550. The church holds two Sunday morning services.
It’s not only churches that choose to come alongside Rise Against Hunger.
Businesses and organizations sign up to serve, some using the opportunity for team building.
For McPherson, there is a personal reason to become involved.
He just returned from working for two months in Haiti, at Freedom House.
The orphanage was started by Blount Countians Josh and Amanda Armstrong.
McPherson said he saw the plight of people who live in poor areas and often go without food.
“I saw how this can help orphanages and schools and children,” he said. “I have a big heart for caring for people that are often forgotten.”
Teaming up with Rise Against Hunger helps put the spotlight on a major need, McPherson said.
BCC wants to put the message out there so people are aware of the need and ways to help.
The church partners with Family Promise to provide shelter for Blount County’s homeless and also reaches out to local neighborhoods. McPherson said at BCC, children are taught early the importance of helping others.
“We are blessed to bless others,” McPherson said. “We like to be the hands and feet and do whatever needs doing.”