Villa Maria College’s contribution to the international “Feed My Starving Children” meal project, in its seventh year this April, inspires students, staff and families to take creative approaches to teamwork and raising money — selling painting lessons, homemade Sicilian rice balls and even forgoing birthday presents.
The campus tradition involves months of preparation and fundraising for the $26,000 needed to buy food. This year’s expected 500 volunteers will gather and pack the high-nutrition ingredients into bags making 108,000 meals to be shipped off to countries in need, like Haiti and the Philippines.
“I think it’s easier to forget about places that aren’t in front of us and countries that aren’t in front of us. I feel very lucky that I go to a school that also cares about this,” said Bianca Gullotti, a Villa junior set to volunteer for a third year in a row.
When the photography and fine arts major first rallied support at her Jamestown church, Gullotti raised $2,300 by hosting an evening of painting lessons and selling her mother’s arancini rice balls for $5 each.
“I think it’s changed me,” Gullotti said. “When I first did this, I didn’t think I would have as much success with it as I did. It just made me want to be a better person and help whenever I can.”
Packing events, known as “MobilePacks,” are held with help from the national organizer, the Minnesota-based nonprofit Feed My Starving Children. Local efforts, like Villa’s, supply almost a quarter of the FMSC food sent to orphanages, schools and clinics. Founded in response to hunger in Honduras in 1987, the organization shipped 284 million of its nutritionist-formulated meals last year.
Dr. Kim Kotz, a Villa physical therapist assistant professor, discovered FMSC when researching ways to help after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. For Kotz, a mother and grandmother, the numbers of children suffering from hunger worldwide are extremely motivating. About 6,200 die every day, she said. “That’s roughly one every 15 seconds.”
The annual project also fits with the College’s philosophy of service to others. “It ties in very well with our mission and our core values,” Kotz said.
Eventually, she would like to double the numbers of meals assembled on campus each year. “I’d love to pack 200,000 meals,” she said. Donations to help cover the food costs are welcome from any source — residents, businesses, organizations. No donation is too small. Ingredients for one meal cost 22 cents, which means $10 covers 45 meals. Contribute at https://give.fmsc.org/BuffaloMobilePack.
About a third of the volunteers who sign up for one of four two-hour shifts are students. The rest are from outside campus, like the three generations of the Bates family.
They joined the effort about four years ago when Carolyn Bates’ daughter Sophie, now 14, heard about FMSC at school. She raised $300 when she asked for donations instead of birthday presents.
Lately, she and her sisters have been asking when MobilePack is this year. Bates’ parents, grandparents and two younger sisters are set to volunteer for the fourth time in a row.
“It’s a great tradition. It’s also a reminder in the busy, busy lives that we have. It’s a nice few hours spent working on someone else’s life,” said Carolyn Bates thinking of her daughters.
“I think it makes them aware of people’s situation. It gives them a more global perspective. I think it makes them proud to feel that they’re contributing to another child’s well-being.”
Sign up for one of four shifts: On Saturday, April 14, pack 6 to 8 p.m. On Sunday, April 15, pack 10 a.m. to noon, 1 to 3 p.m., 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Volunteers can e-mail Dr. Kotz at [email protected] or call 716-961-1837 for more information.
Please note: Publicity of this event, including this article, is being coordinated as a project in the Villa Maria public relations class of the Digital Media and Communication program. We appreciate your feedback and support.
Photos courtesy of Benjamin Lawson, a Digital Media Communications major at Villa Maria College. Photos were taken at an FMSC fundraising event held in February 2018.