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Fighting hunger at home and in Haiti

May 31, 2013

The sun had barely risen into the hazy morning sky on April 6, but Downey High School was already a hub of activity. Hundreds of Kiwanis-family members from the California-Nevada-Hawaii Division 13 were gathering at the school in Southeast Los Angeles County—ready to participate in Kiwanis One Day, when Kiwanis members around the world join in a day of service.

“We’ll pack 50,000 meals today to ship to Haiti, to schoolchildren who are going hungry,” said Carol Wait, lieutenant governor for Division 13. “We’re going to put a Kiwanis sticker on each and every one of those 50,000 packages so the kids know where they came from. It’s a very exciting project.”

After a Zumba dance warm-up, 350 Kiwanis-family members were ready to begin the fight against hunger. Circle K International, a service club for university students, and Key Club International and KIWIN’S, programs for high school students, joined Kiwanis members to package the meals. In fact, the clubs in Division 13 had raised US$12,500 to purchase the meals’ ingredients through Stop Hunger Now of Southern California.

“The meal has four main ingredients,” said Brandon Romano, program manager for Stop Hunger Now of Southern California. “There’s a vitamin and mineral packet, a dehydrated vegetable mixture, soy, which is the protein in the mix, and white rice.”

With music playing and everyone organized into assembly stations, the work went quickly.

“We have people filling bags of food, people running bags of food to the scales and people making sure they’re the appropriate weight,” said Sean Nguyen, CKI governor for the Cal-Nev-Ha District. “We have other people sealing the bags and then other people putting bags inside of boxes to ship out. It’s definitely a great experience being here with everyone.”

Meanwhile, Builder’s Club and K-Kids club members, programs for students age 6 to 14, ran and walked around the high school’s track. Each lap brought in 25 U.S. cents, the cost of one pre-packaged meal, from local sponsors.

“I’m out here today to run around the track to help stop hunger because there’s plenty of people in Haiti that do not have food,” says Christian Vaillant, vice president of K-Kids at Gauldin Elementary School. “I love helping people—it’s something I naturally do because some people are less fortunate than us. But with Haiti, it’s a big impact on me because that’s where my dad’s from, my grandma’s from, and I really want to help there.”

But these Kiwanis One Day participants didn’t forget the hungry in their own backyard. They also collected about 700 cans of food and other nonperishable items for the local food bank.

“It just means so much to us to have the support of clubs like Kiwanis,” says Beth Gendreau, director of the Downey Council PTA Food Bank. “I think it’s really important for the kids to get involved in giving the food because it’s giving back to their community. And they realize that just because they have food on their plate doesn’t mean that everybody in the community has food.”

After a morning of scooping, weighing and sealing, the 50,000 meals were ready to be loaded on a truck and shipped to a school in Haiti. Many kids were tired from running or walking around the track in the hot sun. And, at the same time, the local food bank had a Suburban full of food to restock its shelves.

Alex Gaytan, chairman of youth services for the Kiwanis Club of Downey, was reminded yet again why he looks forward each year to Kiwanis One Day—when the worldwide Kiwanis family creates and participates in local service projects designed to improve children’s lives.

“It’s a time where we get the whole Kiwanis family together,” Gaytan said. “It’s unbelievable how everyone else is doing this around the world. It’s just such a special moment for all of us to come together and do one act of kindness on one day.”

Cal-Nev-Ha Division 13 won Kiwanis International’s 2013 contest for best One Day project.