View from the amazing Million Meals assembly line
Two buses and a variety of private vehicles, waited in the icy Highveld air outside Metamorpha Church, Witbank, at 06:30 on Saturday, June 6. Winter weather was the inevitable conversation starter — “I’ve got three layers on,” confessed one lady. Everyone collected a black and white team shirt for the adventure ahead, before setting out for Zwartkop Air Force Base outside of Pretoria.
Pastor Ledge Saunders drove one of the mini-buses filled with volunteers who were delighted to be taxiing to the city; fun-filled comments rifled the air.
Judea Hope’s Million Meals Packing Event began on Friday 5th June 2015, at 09h00. Under the auspesis of the Guiness Book of Records’ rules the event was regulated and controlled by Inspectors to ensure acuracy. Every three hour session was motivated by a specific Master of Ceremonies (MC) and a South African performing Artist.
‘Captains and coaches are in charge’
Every team went through the training process. Coaches trained and over-sighted queries, while Team Captains were in charge of the scissors for cutting open supplies, while keeping their teams informed and encouraged. Hein from Doxa Deo, Midstream Campus, coached the volunteer from Metamorpha Church.
“2 200 bags are at every table,” explained Dr Louis Blom, President of Judea Harvest. “You’ll need 2 000 to complete your target.” Madelaine Schoombie, whose birthday it was, started the process off by opening bags. He emphasised that concentration was very important when filling bags at the shoot. Strong men from each team collected stock from pallets at the kitchen side of the room to fill the containers on the packing table.
“Put on your hats and gloves, to comply with standards for packing food,” Dr Blom continued, “Everybody needs to understand the process.”
After sealing, stickers were added to bags as they accumulated on the counting board; they were then placed into boxes. Corporate stickers were attached to one side of each box, prior to being stacked.
And so the Saturday morning session began to the sound of overhead aircraft as volunteers passed packets, put on stickers, made boxes.
How did it all start?
“Our Judea Hope Project is currently packing one million meals,” Blom was delighted to report, “and we are going to distribute the million meals in squatter camps, RDP areas and townships, wherever we find poor and needy kids. We have more than one thousand pre-schools we’ve identified and networked together. We’ve been supporting them for 45 years now,” he smiled. “They will get this food that we’re packing right now.”
Blom continued to explain logistics, “One hundred thousand bags – with ten meals per bag. We will distribute these million meals,” he indicated the packing process hurrying on inside the hall, “to these kids over the balance of the year.”
What it is really all about?
“We are making a big difference to the kids’ lives. It’s not just food – it’s the high quality vitamins and minerals that build their immune systems and help with brain and body development.” Blom could not disguise his joy; “Proper nourishment creates proper children. So, we are very passionate about this project — very excited about all the volunteers,” he enthused. “Four thousand people came in over the two days; three hour slots each at a time, sponsoring the money for the food and packing the food. It’s just absolutely awesome,” he beamed.
No good thing goes without hiccoughs
It is virtually impossible to move 44 tons of food using 4 000 people without hiccoughs here and there.
“For 9 hours last night,” told Blom, who was MC of the first two sessions on Friday, as well as the first on Saturday, “Dr TJ Skhosana took up the challenge to MC three sessions of volunteers through the night; they ran out of veggies. Our office had ordered 100% spot on, but the spoon for the veggies although only a small spoon, must only be a level spoon per packet. We taught everybody this, over the last 2 days but somehow, too much was used and we ran out of veggies.”
Making sure the attentive crowd of volunteers realised the enormity of this fact, he continued, “So, 6 o’ clock this morning our team was driving all over the city, knocking down doors and buying veggies. They will be here within the next half hour, and you will have veggies to pack.”
Speed and accuracy
“If level spoons, 1-thumb-down, are not used today we won’t finish our million meals today,” cautioned Blom, “It’s about packing fast, but it’s also about accuracy. So please, everybody, help us not to run out of product.”
Blom’s punchline for the day: “Our challenge is that we stopped packing. So today, we need to make up the missed 3 hour shift. You don’t only have to pack your 60 boxes, you have to pack 80.” Sharing his expertise, he continued, “But in our experience, with the volume of people here, some of you could even pack 100!”
The vitamin sachets that will accompany the food packs will be attached at a later date. The logistical challenge of getting all of the vitamins and minerals for this feeding programme, is very costly, and as some clients couldn’t pay, the project ran short of cash. “We will buy the vitamins and minerals as we go along,” assured Blom. There was no doubt that it would happen.
Keeping the rhythm
The mellow tone of Jaques, lead singer of Afrikaans Christian Band ‘Joshua Na Die Reen,’ filled the room, encouraging volunteers. His rendition of the secular tune ‘The Piano Man,’ was perfect for the calibre of his voice. This charismatic Band recently performed at the ‘Witbank for Jesus’ celebration held at Cambridge School, Witbank.
Workers hooted and called as they packed, edging each other on enthusiastically, as Captains bustling from one end of the work stations to the other, called out details of their number of completed and stacked boxes.
“Pass me the top,” Jean-Michel Masson, of Masson Music, Witbank asked when the reporter nearly bungled passing a packet. “Better,” he smiled when a bag held from underneath was swung in front of him; aim – grab – automation.
“We’re up to 42 boxes,” Pastor Saunders encouraged, shortly afterwards, with Jean-Michel’s baby in one arm and record sheet in the other. By the middle of Jaques’ next song, he’d hurried by again, “We’re up to 45 mense [people]!”
Abie, the official photographer for the Million Meals Event, shared that he’d already been awake and busy for 48 hours. “4 000 people here,” he smiled; tired, but completely enthralled with what he’d witnessed.
When the session was over, Pastor Saunders signed the official form, concluding, “No records broken today, but we’ll help again. We were 5 or 6 boxes behind the ones who finished first. We finished 80 boxes with this team, plus the other Metamorpha volunteers,” he indicated another work station, “Where we helped on the other side, where a team was short of members so Metamorpha helped on that side, too.”
This great volunteer event to correctly feed young children has long term benefits for other youngsters. Simone, a little girl with a swinging ponytail, was very active and very accurate in helping to pass the bags. Pastor Sanders agreed, “She didn’t miss a beat!” Simone was one of the children from Metamorpha who participated in the event; boys and girls were learning that helping is a good thing, and great fun, too.
Well done to the children from Metamorpha Church, Witbank who worked shoulder to shoulder unflaggingly. Way to go guys!
Confessions of the reporter: “I do not regret one hoot or squeal of delight. The Piano Man song rang in my head all the way home. I can’t wait for the redistribution process.”
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