Meals of Hope plans to make the holiday season a little brighter for people in Southwest Florida struggling to put food on the table.
Meals of Hope packed 500,000 meals in a matter of two hours Saturday morning during an event called Holidays Without Hunger, its biggest of the year. On the menu this year: cinnamon sugar diced oatmeal. Over 1,200 volunteers packaged oatmeal to be distributed in Lee and Collier counties.
Teachers, churches, families and children came together to package the food at the Lee County Civic Center from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Meals of Hope says the need for food has increased significantly because of inflation and the effects of Hurricane Ian.
Stephen Popper, president and CEO of Meals of Hope, says the group loves having the event because it gives people the opportunity to give back to their community.
“People are hurting,” Popper said. “But at the same time, people have a real generous heart and want to figure out a way that they can also help their neighbors. So, that’s what we love about Meals of Hope. And literally in a two-hour time period, from 9 to 11, we expect to pack over half a million meals with that 1,200 people that will be showing up bright and early wearing Santa hats, and we will have a DJ there. And I guess that’s also a nice thing, is that people will be able to give back and at the same time have a good time doing so.”
Popper says he is incredibly thankful that Meals of Hope found enough volunteers to pack meals in the morning.
“When people are in line at our food pantries, we don’t look at what kind of car they drive or anything like that,” Popper said. “You don’t know what the circumstances are. That if you have people that have made… people have to come to a food pantry. All that we’re interested in is if someone made the effort to come to a food pantry, we want to give them food. We want to serve them with a smile and a welcome heart and invite them to come back every week that they need food assistance.”
The meals packed on Saturday will be distributed to around 15 weekly food pantries starting Monday.