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Sugarloaf UMC food assembly project inspires volunteers

Staff Photo: John Bohn Lisa Bauer, left and Rosanne Shepherd, right, work to refill a container of soy while they work with the Sugarloaf United Methodist Church in a food packing shift to assemble prepackaged food for malnourished children around the world at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds Saturday.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Lisa Bauer, left and Rosanne Shepherd, right, work to refill a container of soy while they work with the Sugarloaf United Methodist Church in a food packing shift to assemble prepackaged food for malnourished children around the world at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds Saturday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Alex Wright, 10, of Greater Atlanta Christian Cub Scout pack 21 gathers rice and soy as Sugarloaf United Methodist Church is hosting food packing shifts to assemble prepackaged food for malnourished children around the world at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds Saturday. Behind Wright is Graham McCarty.

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From Hunger to Hope

From Hunger to Hope, put on by Gwinnett County and Sugarloaf United Methodist Church.

From Hunger to Hope, put on by Gwinnett County and Sugarloaf United Methodist Church.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- When Jett Wallace learned about his cub scout troop's latest service activity, he wasn't too excited.

"I expected it to be kind of boring," said Wallace, 12, a member of Cub Scout Pack 21 of Greater Atlanta Christian school.

In his second year participating, Wallace now raves about the event, called From Hunger to Hope, put on by Gwinnett County and Sugarloaf United Methodist Church over three days at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds. The church partnered with Feed My Starving Children, an organization that feeds starving and malnourished children around the world, to have nearly 2,000 volunteers pack 400,000 meals.

"I could do it all weekend," Wallace said during the Saturday early afternoon shift. "It's surprising how much better it makes you feel to make a difference in someone else's life."

The three-day event ends at 2:30 p.m. Sunday with a worship and celebration service.

Since Friday, corporate teams, sports groups and church members were among the groups working the "mobile pack." The groups packaged vitamins, soy and dehydrated vegetables into bags that, with water added, could feed six people.

Volunteers also brought canned goods to donate to local food banks.

Among the groups on Saturday were Wallace's cub scout pack and Peachtree Ridge High soccer and lacrosse teams. Friday had the North Gwinnett High football team and cheerleaders, and companies that brought between three and 71 employees to use it as a team building exercise.

Michelle Henn, a MobilePack supervisor with Feed My Starving Children, said she was amazed at the scale and breadth that the Gwinnett group put out. Henn noted the diversity of each group within a packing shift, and the Sugarloaf youth group, which conducted a 30-hour fasting that ended with homemade chicken soup on Saturday night.

Henn, based near Chicago, said her organization did 150 of these events last year, but was impressed that the local group improved its numbers from last year.

Sugarloaf UMC co-leaders of the event, Kiersten Greeff and Lora Mann, said the church raised $57,000 last year, and $88,000 this year.

"People know what it's about, and are really excited," Greef said.

The partnership stemmed from a question posed to the congregation two years ago: "If our church could do anything, what would we do?"

"It raises the awareness that we live in a society that we can have anything we want in two seconds," Greef said. "It just shows how insulated we are."

Before the volunteers received packing instructions from Henn, they learned about personal stories where the food has reached people who need it most. One example was a 14-month-old who weighed seven pounds.

The meals are shipped to the most needed areas around the world, but organizers said they're not yet sure where these will go. Last year, the meals were sent to Haiti to feed earthquake victims.

Volunteers were required to wear hair nets and gloves, and worked in teams to mix the various ingredients.

Henn said it's a way to attack a serious issue in a fun way.

"Expect to have the most fun you could ever have wearing a hair net," Henn said. "You're going to do a lot in a little bit of time."