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The Million Meal March

When NC State students return to campus for the fall semester the first thing they’ll do, before unpacking their Frisbees and firing up their PlayStations, will be to help package a million meals for Stop Hunger Now, an international relief organization that provides nutritious pre-packaged meals throughout the developing world.

The annual event, which grew out of a community service initiative called Service NC State, now includes students from eight colleges in a week-long effort across four campuses. NC State kicks off the endeavor on Saturday, Aug. 22.

It’s a tradition that not only gets students involved in fighting world hunger – but gives them an opportunity to make new friends and have some fun. It’s good for school spirit, too.

“I’m proud to be part of a campus with such a passion for service,” said Ryan Shalley, a communication major who is helping to raise funds for  the event.

Communication may be a vital ingredient this year.

Stop Hunger Now CEO Rod Brooks
Rod Brooks

In the midst of a global economic crisis, Stop Hunger Now doesn’t know how it’s going to pay for the raw materials for the meals. It’s counting on the students – and everyone else in the community – to get the word out and raise the funds to make the event happen.

In his office on the second floor of the Fairmont United Methodist Church near the NC State campus, Stop Hunger Now CEO Rod Brooks is busy reaching out to the business and corporate partners that historically have underwritten the student event.  But with profits down, businesses are cutting back on their charitable spending.

It’s a worry for Brooks.

Even at the modest cost of 25 cents per meal, Stop Hunger Now still needs to raise $250,000 to pay for a million meals. By this time last year donors had already committed the lion’s share of the funds. This year the organization is short about $170,000.

Organizers say they will ask everyone who participates in the event to donate a minimum of $10. But, that will bring in just $40,000. In addition to reaching out to new prospective corporate donors, they’re asking NC State employees and supporters to help make up the shortfall.

Mike Giancola, director of the Center for Student Leadership, Ethics & Public Service (CSLEPS), says the best way to help – ironically – is to go hungry for a meal or two.

“By simply skipping one or two fast-food lunches during the summer, people could easily save $10 to donate to Stop Hunger Now to help underwrite the event,” he said. “That $10 will pay for 40 meals for kids in school lunch feeding programs in the developing world.”

As someone who fights global hunger every day, Brooks likes the idea of asking donors to experience hunger firsthand – if only for one or two meals. For many people in the developing world, hunger is the norm.

“We live in a world where hunger exists, where 450 million kids go to bed hungry, where 25,000 people a day die from hunger – all in a world where we have enough food to feed everyone,” he said.

The good news is that solving the world’s hunger problem solves other problems at the same time. Since Stop Hunger Now distributes meals through schools, the program provides an incentive for children to attend classes.

“In many countries, school enrollment doubles or triples when we provide meals,” Brooks said. “The majority of those new students are girls. There is a ‘girl effect.’ When you educate girls in a community, the overall quality of life in that community increases.”

Statistics indicate that educated girls tend to be healthier and have fewer children, he notes.

“We often say that by addressing hunger, we gain leverage in addressing other issues, such as education, the birth rate, maternal health, and infant mortality,” Brooks said. “By stopping hunger we can begin to break the cycle of poverty.”

It’s a tall order. But, Brooks says, NC State students have already transformed the effort from a modest beginning to a major initiative in just four years, increasing the number of meals packaged from 15,000 to more than one million.

“Now is the time to end world hunger,” Brooks said. “And this generation of college students – led by the students at NC State – have the opportunity to create a movement to make that a reality.”