“Confections” made from dirt don’t bring fond memories of youth to residents of countries like Haiti.
Unlike American children who build mud pies for fun in the backyard, Haitian children commonly consume what is called a “dirt cookie” in an effort to satisfy their hungry tummies, said Rhonda Wrenholt of Norfolk.
“They use dirt as a substitute for flour,” Wrenholt said. “They mix that with water and let the kids chew on that. Then the kids are happy. They’re not crying. They’ve swallowed and got something in their tummy so their brain tells them they’ve eaten, but it’s nothing to keep their body healthy.”
Wrenholt serves as the director of Mercy Meals, a nonprofit organization that allows volunteers to package nourishing food that will be delivered by the Orphan Grain Train to children in need — like those in Haiti — throughout the world.
For the past 12 years, Mercy Meals regularly has hosted groups of volunteers at its Norfolk headquarters on Madison Avenue to package healthy meal starters that include a cup of soy flakes, chicken flavoring with 20 vitamins and minerals, a tablespoon of dried vegetables and a cup of white rice.
“All of that goes into one bag, and one bag will feed six people for 72 cents,” Wrenholt said. “They boil six cups of water. You pour one bag into it, and it will feed six people a healthy meal.”
The ingredients are supplied by Hope for the Starving, another nonprofit organization that is associated with Mercy Meals and Orphan Grain Train. Wrenholt said connections made by Orphan Grain Train in each of the receiving countries ensures that the food will be distributed to those who need it most.
The organization is preparing for its annual Pack Away Hunger event on Sunday, Oct. 6, at the Devent Center in Norfolk. About 600 people are expected to participate in efforts to package thousands of meals that will be distributed to the starving citizens of more than 20 countries.
“We have people who have reserved lines — anywhere from Laurel to Ainsworth to Albion to Columbus,” Wrenholt said. “They come from all around.”
While the downtown Mercy Meals location can accommodate up to three food preparation tables, the Pack Away Hunger event will feature 16 packaging tables with about eight to 10 people manning each line. There will be three packing sessions — at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Each will last for about 90 minutes.
The event draws a variety of different groups to serve as volunteers at the event. Among the volunteers are church and youth groups, Scouts and families who oftentimes will donate time or money in memorial of a loved one, Wrenholt said.
Last year’s event resulted in the packaging of more than 140,000 meals for the hungry. More sponsors and volunteers are needed to fill the food-preparation assembly lines at this year’s event. Wrenholt said anyone interested in filling a volunteer position for Pack Away Hunger is encouraged to call Mercy Meals at 402-649-6401.
Wrenholt said involvement with the Pack Away Hunger event always leaves her with a good feeling.
“It really warms the heart,” she said. “People come with such a big heart themselves, and a nice smile, and they’re just so enthusiastic and have such a good time doing it.”