Gym  Gym or food packing facility?

This past weekend, I got to see focus in action. But it happened in a very unexpected place – an elementary school gym.  Here’s what happened.

We all know the impact of the economic crisis on those of us in the developed world.  Millions have lost jobs.  Many have lost homes.  Nearly all of us have lost significant savings.  What’s easy to forget is that people in the developing world have actually gotten hammered far worse.  As one person put it recently, “Rich people are inconvenienced by sharp recessions.  The poor are crushed.” Millions more people are being thrown into extreme poverty (living on less than $1 per day) as a result of the crisis.

Which leads me back to the elementary school gym.  Members of our church were invited to come serve for a 2-hour block this past weekend to help alleviate the crisis for people in the developing world. Specifically, we were asked to come pack meals for children and other at-risk populations in Zimbabwe where a decades-long crisis has turned into hyper-inflation, social unrest, and massive outbreaks of disease.

What can 120 suburban volunteers in Chicago accomplish in 2 hours to address this situation? As it turns out, quite a lot – thanks to focus.  We were ably led by a non-profit called Feed My Starving Children.  Their whole (focused) mission is to pack and distribute nutritious meals for at-risk populations in the developing world.  While they buy the food, the packing is done entirely by armies of volunteers.  That’s only possible through impressive focus.  Here are just a few things they do to turn grade school kids, gramdmas and everyone in between into relief workers:

  • They formulated a nutritious, culturally friendly, non-perishable meal formula with nutritionists from leading food companies.
  • They designed a simple, idiot-proof process for taking those raw materials and packaging them.
  • They worked out the logistics to take the show on the road, turning many different public spaces into effective food packaging facilities.
  • They streamlined the training process so that it can be done in 10-15 minutes.
  • They both appealed to like-minded organizations and welcomed all comers, multiplying their workforce by literally tens of thousands.  Kids can even have food-packing birthday parties at their facilities.

The result? In two hours (start to finish), our group of 120 packed 36,000 meals.  That’s enough to feed 99 children for a whole year.   (Oh, and we had fun and our kids learned a great lesson!) All because an organization figured out a model of how to contribute and organized all activity around it.  Pretty impressive!

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