More than 2,000 volunteers donned hairnets and gloves in a Charlotte Convention Center ballroom Saturday and began fighting global hunger.
Working in one-hour shifts, six-member teams packaged 100,000 meals targeted for West Africa. The community service project was the largest scheduled during the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority’s weeklong national convention, which runs through Friday.
The nation’s oldest sorority for college-educated, mostly African-American women, Alpha Kappa Alpha sponsored the food packaging event with Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief organization.
Four shifts of 500 volunteers each helped package 7 1/2 tons of dehydrated rice, soy protein and dried vegetables, along with 22 vitamins and minerals.
The event honored the spirit of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela, whose values of volunteering and community service are celebrated internationally on July 18, the day of his birth.
“Our mission today was to feed 100,000 families,” said event coordinator Allyson Shropshire. “It was a huge feat and our goal was to have 1,000 volunteers, not over 2,000. It was just amazing seeing everybody jumping in and working together. It speaks volumes about Nelson Mandela and who he was.”
Emily Everett, chief marketing officer with Raleigh-based Stop Hunger Now, said community organizations such as Alpha Kappa Alpha raise money to hold the packaging events.
Founded in 1908 at Howard University in Washington, D.C., the sorority sought to provide a support network for women at a time when the nation was both segregated and male-dominated.
It has since become one of the world’s most active service organizations, with projects that have built schools in South Africa, bolstered African-American businesses on Wall Street and preserved African-American historic sites.
Membership recently topped 265,000 women in 42 states and nearly 10 countries. There are more than 3,000 members in North Carolina, 856 of them from the Charlotte area. About 11,500 women from nearly all the 986 chapters are expected for the national convention. They fought many of the grass-roots battles that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
50,000 meals per hour
On Saturday, after a brief training session, teams turned out 50,000 meals per hour.
Using measured cups, volunteers doled out ingredients into bags that were weighed and sealed. The final destination for the meals is Burkina Faso.
“This is huge,” Everett said as she looked around the ballroom. “It’s a way to get people involved in a hands-on way and for them to know and understand the difference they’re making in other peoples’ lives.”
She recently took part in a mission to Nicaragua, where she put food into the hands of hungry children. “It’s the most amazing feeling in the world,” Everett said.
Sorority member Shayla Solomon of the Virgin Islands wanted to help package food because “it’s the cause – and the cause is tremendous.
“It’s the least we can do and it’s what our sorority is all about,” said Solomon, 28. “I’m happy to lend a hand.”
Retired school administrator Joan Saunders, 70, of Fort Washington, Md., recalled the many needs she saw while working with inner-city families during her long career in education.
She showed up Saturday willing to do any job “where they think I’m needed.”
Retired Elon University teacher Iris Chapman, 68, of Mebane brought her whole family, including her husband, son and nieces.
It was her second experience with Stop Hunger Now. In April, while attending an African literature conference in South Africa, she ran into Alpha Kappa Alpha members doing a Stop Hunger Now project and joined in.
“I was shocked,” Chapman said. “I had never participated in one, and I’ve been talking about it ever since.”
For Beverly Tribble, 50, of Gastonia, fighting global hunger was a welcome opportunity.
“I’m always willing to help when there is a need,” she said. Her job on the packaging team was to seal the bags of food.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever done this,” said Tribble, getting into the swing of things. “And it makes me feel wonderful.”