Volunteers at Westland Middle Don Hairnets in the Fight Against Global Hunger

Volunteers at Westland Middle Don Hairnets in the Fight Against Global Hunger

Students, staff and families work together to package more than 10,000 meals

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Volunteers at Westland Middle work to package meals.


Pour a heaping cup of soy into a plastic bag. Add some dehydrated vegetables and a scoop of rice.

Weigh it. Seal the bag.

Repeat 10,151 more times.

“I think we’re in a pretty good rhythm,” Alison Serino, principal of Westland Middle School, said Thursday evening as her team of volunteers packaged the food in the cafeteria.

About 100 students and their family members at the Bethesda school spent an hour and a half working together to bag more than 10,000 meals that will fill empty stomachs and help in the fight against hunger worldwide. Students and staff at the school have spent a couple years raising the $3,000 necessary to host the event with the nonprofit group Rise Against Hunger.

Rachel Johns, an International Baccalaureate coordinator at Westland, helped organize the meal packaging event with her colleague, Linda O’Reilly. Johns said she wanted students to walk away from the event feeling motivated.

“I’m hoping that they are inspired to do good things around the world for people they don’t know,” Johns said.

Johns said about three years ago, a group of students and staff visited an Oxfam Hunger Banquet held in D.C. Most of the people during the meal ate rice while seated on the floor, while some others dined on rice and beans. A very small group of participants were served the full-course meal that might appear on an American table.

The meal, meant to represent the food available to people internationally, got students interested in hunger issues, she said. Over the past couple of years, Westland students have held drives for the school’s food pantry and collected funding for a Rise Against Hunger event, Johns said.

Volunteers weigh and seal food bags that others have filled. Credit: Bethany Rodgers

Finally, on Thursday, they put on their red hairnets and got to work packaging meals.


Rise Against Hunger representative Yasmin Ibrahim was on hand to show them the ropes and bang the gong every time the group finished filling another 1,000 bags. She explained that her nonprofit aims to end global hunger by the year 2030 by preparing the packaged meals, each containing six servings and a healthy balance of vitamins, minerals and proteins. Since its founding in 1998, the North Carolina-based organization has sent nearly 379 million meals to 74 countries.

Ibrahim encouraged the volunteers to think of the people who would be receiving each package.

“That is 10,152 lives that you guys are impacting today,” she said. “You are not just putting food in a bag.”

The volunteers worked in teams of five or six to package the dried ingredients, standing by tables loaded with boxes of rice and soy and a giant funnel to help them fill the bags. Abby Koeppel, a sixth-grader at Westland, said she had been designated a rice scooper.

One of her initial takeaways was about portion size.

“I’ve really overeaten,” she said, laughing. “One bag feeds six, and I feel like I could eat one myself!”

The event also increased her awareness of her own food security, she said.

“I’m really lucky I have three meals a day,” she said.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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