WILKES-BARRE — Among the throng of volunteers in hair nets and food-prep gloves, a few towering Dallas High School football players stood out Saturday morning as they prepared meals for kids in need.
Their hoots and hollers sounded like what happens after breaking a huddle in the fourth quarter. But athletes, working with more than 150 other volunteers at Salvation Army headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, weren’t chasing a pigskin, they were filling pouches of uncooked macaroni and cheese. Cheers erupted as volunteers hit landmark counts in their food preparation.
United Way of Wyoming Valley, The Salvation Army and Naples, Fla.-based Meals of Hope collaborated on the food-packing day in preparation for the soon-to begin school year. The groups are working to solve a widespread problem: kids perform poorly in school when they’re hungry.
About 22 percent of Luzerne County’s school-age residents live below the federally set poverty line, a statistic that drives the groups’ mission to provide nutritious food for students, according to Census data.
Organizers of the effort, called “Mac & Cheese and ABCs,” intended to fill 46,000 pouches of macaroni mixed with a high-vitamin soy product and cheese powder for kids 18 and younger who face “food insecurity.”
People are described as “food insecure” when they do not know where their next meal will come from, said Meals for Hope Operations Manager John DeMauro. His organization has prepared more than 18 million meals in its six years of operation and delivered to 14 countries.
By 10:30 a.m. Saturday, they already had filled 10,000 pouches of pasta.
“Our goal is 46,000 meals in two hours,” said United Way of Wyoming Valley President Bill Jones. “We’re going to exceed that.”
After all the food is prepared, said Jones, they will distribute it to area organizations including the Catholic Youth Center, Head Start and the Wyoming Valley Children’s Association. The other area groups that can identify children who need food supplement are the Child Development Council, Maternal Family Health Services and Volunteers of America.
“An event like today addresses a critical need in the community,” Jones said. “Our goal is not only to provide access to quality meals, it is to bring awareness and advocacy to this critical need.”