Over a thousand volunteers continue Haiti relief efforts

(Adam Jones)

Adam Jones

Over 1,500 volunteers worked in Saddleback College’s parking lot 1 last weekend, in an effort to thwart famine and hunger in several Third World countries.

The event, put on by Kids Around the World, an organization that sends playgrounds and non-perishable meals to communities in need, produced 840,000 packaged meals.

“Saddleback donated a generator, and they cleaned out the warehouse for us to store food,” said Paul Gates, a regional director for Kids Around the World. “We’ve done lots of packing events with schools, businesses, and churches, but I wanted to do a community-wide event.”

Gates had difficulty in the past finding a location in south Orange County to host the event. “When I thought more about the location, I thought Saddleback College was very [distance] neutral, and right in the middle of everything,” Gates said.

Gates’ mother contacted Saddleback to see if anything could be arranged, and a few weeks later they received a phone call regarding their request. According to Gates, Saddleback was eager to host the event for KATW.

“It’s such a blessing to be able to have access to all of this,” Gates said.

In addition to the donated facility and supplies, plenty of volunteers showed up from all walks of life to support the event.

“We had around 1,500 people here [over the course of] the weekend,” Gates said. Volunteers had showed up Friday morning and stayed until they closed late Friday night, and many returned Saturday for a second helping.

KATW was first interested in sending volunteers to assemble playgrounds in Third World countries. As the organization grew in strength, they looked for ways to include people who could not give up enough time to travel overseas.

“We want to do something here on a broad scale that will give people a taste of what it means to care for the poor, without leaving their comfort zone,” Gates said. “The hope is that some of these young people who showed up this weekend will become future humanitarians.”

The meals packaged this weekend are being shipped to Haiti and several countries in the horn of Africa, where there is currently a famine.

“Our goal was one million meals, and while we fell short, it was not by much,” Gates said. “Working Friday from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. and then 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. [Saturday], the group packaged 840,000 meals.”

The meals consist of rice, soy, vegetables, and a daily supply of nutrients and vitamins mixed with seasonings. The dehydrated meals are non-perishable until opened, and contain enough nutrients for a full day, even if the person can only eat one meal.

KATW ships the food and playgrounds in 40 foot shipping containers. “Sportsgift donates full uniforms for soccer teams, along with cleats, shin guards, socks, and more,” Gates said. “Hurley donates and sends water purifiers.”

“We’ll take anything anyone will give us and ship it out.”

Organizations and individuals donate time or money to KATW to make their shipments possible. Several firefighters from around the region participated in the packing, and a few local businesses were represented as well.

KATW also trains teachers to work in underprivileged communities. They currently have 16,000 trained teachers working in more than 30 countries.

“Any time you care for the poor it enlarges your heart,” Gates said. He encourages anyone interested in volunteering, hosting a packing event, or making donations to contact KATW at 815-229-8731, or visit their website at http://kidsaroundtheworld.com.