http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2011/08/19/making-a-difference


Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - August 19, 2011

Making a difference

Local group packs 100,000 meals for Somalia refugees

by Glenn Wohltmann

Many people just reach for the remote when confronted with scenes of suffering or pleas for help in parts of the world suffering from famine disease or war.

Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman got mad, then got busy.

She said she recently watched a TV show focusing on Somalia. Over the last three months, nearly 30,000 children have died after a drought and 20 years of rebel fighting. Parents are walking miles to one large refugee camp in the hope of saving their children.

Hosterman was so upset, she said, "I went and pounded on my neighbor Sherri Leal's door."

Leal runs the local chapter of Kids Against Hunger. Hosterman said the two of them talked about what the organization is doing and whether it can do more.

"Jennifer is very direct. When she gets on a mission, she wants to accomplish it," Leal said, explaining Hosterman's first goal was 100,000 meals. "She said, 'If I can get the funds, can you do that?' I said, 'Heck yeah.'"

Hosterman then set out to raise money. Originally, the goal Monday was to package 75,000 meals. About 30 volunteers, working in shifts, gathered in a warehouse space on Quarry Lane to do the packaging.

The operation worked like an assembly line, with volunteers adding food to bags that were then sealed, boxed and loaded onto pallets for shipping. Before noon, they'd already packed 10 percent of their goal.

It takes less than a minute for the volunteers to put together a meal, using scoops that add a predetermined amount of each of the ingredients. Leal explained that each meal contains rice, soy with extra protein, dehydrated vegetables, vitamins and minerals.

"A one cup serving, you can literally survive on and a child can actually thrive," she said, adding that when Kids Against Hunger volunteers travel to Haiti, they eat those meals themselves.

While water continues to be a problem in Somalia, Leal said the meals take that into account. They have to be boiled for 20 minutes, which kills any organism that can cause infection or disease.

With volunteers from the area doing the packing, each meal costs about 25 cents.

Normally, the group holds a training session, but because they were packing so many meals in such a short time, Leal called on experienced volunteers to come pack, sending out 1,000 emails to get the help she needed.

About 250 people turned out, largely from church groups, to lend a hand. Among the volunteers, Leal said, were members of Centerpointe Presbyterian Church and Valley Community Church in Pleasanton, along with volunteers from the San Ramon Christian Academy and Community Presbyterian Church in Danville and other churches from Dublin and Livermore. She said Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts volunteered, too.

The kids were outnumbered more than two to one by adult volunteers, and Leal was quick to point out that despite the name Kids Against Hunger, the organization welcomes anyone 10 and older.

By late afternoon, volunteers were nearing their goal of 75,000 meals, but Leal said that got bumped to 100,000 meals late in the day, thanks to Hosterman, who raised $25,000 for that day.

"She started making phone calls," Leal said. "It was so exciting. I've not had an event like that before."

By 8 p.m., all 100,000 meals were packed, boxed and loaded onto pallets for shipping to Cincinnati, where Kids Against Hunger is based. The group is working with WorldHelp with the goal of providing a million meals for Somalia, specifically to the refugee camp in its capital, Mogadishu, which is expected to run out of food in less than three weeks. Although the country has so far blocked deliveries to that camp, food is being shipped to other camps in Kenya along its border with Somalia.

Hosterman wants to do it all over again before the end of the month. She's looking to raise money for another 100,000 meals.

Leal said she can get the volunteers if Hosterman can get the donations.

"That's totally up to Jennifer, because I don't have the $25,000," Leal said. "I challenged her to talk to the other mayors."

Leal pointed out that Kids Against Hunger in Pleasanton already has a commitment to feed 1,500 children in Haiti three times a week, with the United Nations feeding them other days.

To help her raise funds for the second round of 100,000 meals, Hosterman is calling for donations from the community. Checks can be made out to Kids Against Hunger-Pleasanton and sent to 1258 H Quarry Lane, Pleasanton, CA 94566.

"We can't save everybody," Hosterman said. "But with a community like this, we can save a few."

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