In an impressive display of holiday giving, students from Chicago’s High School for Agricultural Sciences recently came together to package 16,848 macaroni and cheese meals.
A project of Outreach, an nonprofit that works to address hunger issues worldwide, these packaging events create meals that are immediately delivered to hungry and homeless children, families, seniors and veterans in and beyond Chicago.
“We told the kids, this food isn’t going to be put on a shelf to sit there for months,” said Bill Kanatas, who helped coordinate the packaging event. “It’s going to be eaten right away by someone who needs it. The idea of having such a direct impact on people’s lives got them excited.”
Over 135 students participated in the packaging event, which was conducted with remarkable precision. After watching a training video on food safety, and after being educated on startling child hunger statistics from within the United States, the students were eager to begin their work.
“The numbers always surprise them,” said Kanatas. “Few students realize that one in four American children are food insecure, meaning that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Even more surprising to students is that some of those children are likely sitting next to them in class.”
Despite these sobering facts, the mood at the packaging event was festive.
“It’s a fun, fast-paced project,” said Sheila Fowler, Chair of the Agriculture Department at the Ag School. “Kids are dancing and singing to a fun soundtrack, and every time a table fills a box with meals, they let out a cheer to let us know they’re ready for more materials.”
Each table worked as a team, with students meticulously measuring, weighing, packaging and sealing the macaroni and cheese meals. Of the more than 16,000 meals created, nearly a fourth were delivered to the local Maple/Morgan Park Food Pantry, with another 2,100 dropped off at a local church. The remaining 10,000: meals were given to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which services 600 different food pantries in the Chicagoland area.
This was the fourth annual food packaging event for the Ag School, the benefits of which are as significant for students as they are for the community.
“It’s a great service learning project,” said Fowler. “It teaches our students citizenship and leadership skills, and gives them a tangible way to serve their community. We hope that participating in this event will help them develop the mindset to always give back.”