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5/16/2013 3:00:00 PM
Second graders fill empty boxes with food to fill empty stomachs in Zambia

The Switzerland County Elementary School gym was filled with music and children. As the music played, the kids moved back and forth and laughed and chatted while they got down to business.

Complete with hair nets and plastic gloves, the four second grade classrooms at Switzerland County Elementary weren't playing games when they went into the gym on Monday afternoon. They had a project to complete.

And kids to feed.

The children were working on creating 10,000 meal pouches for underprivileged families around the world through the "Kids Against Hunger" program. Most of the packages of food that the students created on Monday will go to an orphanage in the country of Zambia in Africa.

Second grade teacher Gina Miles made the program a reality here, working with her brother-in-law, Dale Oelker, who is the executive director and co-founder of the "Kids Against Hunger" program in Louisville, Kentucky.

"Our school does project based learning," Gina Miles said. "Last summer I had gone to the PBL Academy, and I thought this would be a good idea, so I started talking to Dale about it. I thought 'this would be great.' We could do a year-long thing, and we could hit almost every content area."

Gina Miles said that as part of the program the children did letter writing, counting money from the sale of tee-shirts, graphing, science, made bracelets and bookmarks and other items from recycled products - all things that fit into the project based learning approach to education.

"I thought it would be a good way to teach at the same time, but it incorporated all of this," Gina Miles said. "At the very beginning of the year, I got in contact with a woman who had actually been to the orphanage and the village where these kids live, and we got bios on each kid, so every student in the second grade had a picture and a bio of a child they wrote to."

Gina Miles said that the students' goal was to raise enough money to pay for 10,000 meals, with most going to Zambia; while some of the meals will be left here at the Quercus Grove Food Pantry so the kids will also be helping their community.

With each meal costing 25-cents, that meant that the children needed to raise $2,500 in order to pay for the 10,000 meals, which led to the sale of the tee-shirts and bracelets; as well as collecting change from students in all grade levels and getting the teachers and staff to pay for the right to wear blue jeans to school.

The needed funds were raised; and Monday's project filling the packages was the culmination of a year's work for the children.

The boxes containing the meals will also be covered with labels and messages from the Switzerland County children to their friends in Zambia, and the children will also be signing the boxes before they are shipped - and photos of the boxes arriving in Zambia will connect two groups of children continents apart.

For second grader Carly Bennett, Monday's project was not only important, it was a lot of fun.

"I've been holding the bags under the funnel. I've been weighing, and I've been putting the vegetables in," Carly Bennett said. "All year long we've been making the selling things. We made hearts out of top pop tabs and some string and we made keychains out of those."

The eight year old also enjoyed getting to know her pen pal in Zambia.

"We wrote letters and we drew pictures for them," Carly Bennett said. "My pen pal's first name is Mevis. She wrote to me first, and then I wrote to her."


As much fun as the children had on Monday, the business of feeding hungry children around the world is serious business to the "Kids Against Hunger" program.

The Louisville center was established in December of 2011, and as of May of this year, the program has packaged 781,686 meals; which were distributed in seven different countries: Haiti, Zambia, Kenya, Jordan, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Horn of Africa - as well as meals that have been distributed locally. 245,000 of the meals created have been shipped to Haiti.

The organization has benefited from the work of 3,619 volunteers since it began; with more than 93,000 meals packaged in January of this year, alone.

"The kids today are packaging a vitamin-fortified meal that is shipped to non-governmental organizations around the world that are focused on helping to feed malnourished children," Dale Oelker said. "This group has been studying the country of Zambia, Africa, since the beginning of the school year, and we have an orphanage and a meal center in Zambia, where meals are being shipped."

In each bag is a vitamin/mineral powder that's packed with 21 vitamins and minerals. Then a small scoop of dehydrated vegetables - carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, celery, onions, and cabbage - is dropped in; and that's followed by fortified soy, which is a key ingredient because it's high in protein. That's all topped off with a cup of rice, which helps filled the belly while providing carbohydrates.

"When the meal pouch is cooked with about seven cups of water for about 20 minutes, it provides enough to feed six people," Dale Oelker said. "So every one of those pouches, we consider to be six meals."

But it's a real labor of love for the students and staff at Switzerland County Elementary School, and that was important for Gina Miles.

"I love it," she said. "I've done packings before and I thought it was such a great thing and you get such a good feeling out of it. I wanted the kids to see that they can make a difference."

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