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Packing a Punch

Ohio Northern students, faculty and staff unite to knock out hunger.

The Ohio Northern University gymnasium has been packed for sporting events before, but it’s never been packed quite like it was on Sunday, Jan. 24, when approximately 150 ONU students, faculty and staff teamed up with Pack Away Hunger, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those suffering from hunger and malnutrition, to prepare 40,051 meals for those in need.

The United Nations estimates that as many as 795 million people worldwide are undernourished. In the United States alone, the Department of Agriculture reports that 15.8 million children lack regular access to healthy meals. Pack Away Hunger is trying to change that by encouraging like-minded community organizations, businesses and individuals to sponsor and host packing events, during which volunteers assemble meals that are then distributed to local food banks or community feeding programs in developing nations.

This is a good example of thinking globally and acting locally,” says The Rev. David MacDonald, ONU chaplain. “We are doing something here that is going to have a global impact but also a local impact because part of our food is going to the West Ohio Food Bank. It’s a great opportunity for us to expose students to the issue of hunger around the world and in our own backyard.

Feeding the hungry dates back to the beginning of philanthropy. Proverbs 22:9 states, “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.”

While the sentiment has remained over the ages, the technology has definitely advanced. Instead of bread, ONU assembled and packed Nutri-Plenty™ meals. These meals are a healthy mixture of rice, soy, vegetables and Mathile M+ Micronutrients™, a scientifically proven blend of 21 vitamins and minerals shown to reverse the effects of micronutrient malnutrition in young children.

In their mission statement, Pack Away Hunger declares, “In the battle against hunger and malnutrition, our sole focus is to provide the most nutritious meal possible. Appropriate nutrition is essential for proper growth and development, optimal cognitive ability, and to help prevent often life-limiting or fatal health problems.”

Not only are they extremely healthy, these meals are non-perishable, lightweight and quickly packaged. Those 40,051 meals were assembled, packaged and boxed in a mere two hours. They are also inexpensive. Each packaged meal contains six servings at a cost of only $0.27 per serving. But all the nutrition in the world doesn’t matter if people lack the means to prepare the meals. This is where Nutri-Plenty™ meals are truly amazing; they pack so much nutrition and require only a pot, boiling water and a spoon to prepare.

If the name Mathile in Mathile M+ Micronutrients™ rings a bell, it should. ONU alumnus Clayton L. Mathile, BA ’62, founded The Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition® to “accelerate and extend the reach of evidence-based nutrition interventions and combat nutrient deficiency-related diseases and deaths in relevant and sustainable manners.”

Ending global hunger is equally important to ONU students. That much is clear by the turnout for this event, as a vast majority of the 150 participants were students. But for others, this event was yet another opportunity to fight this fight.

Third-year pharmacy student Kara Horvath hails from Perrysburg, Ohio. She was a student organizer of the Pack Away Hunger event, registering students and helping the event run smoothly. She also helped organize the ONU 30-Hour Famine, a student-led initiative this past fall that raised money to end world hunger.

While Pack Away Hunger events are community endeavors, voluntarily depriving oneself of food for 30 hours is a deeply personal one. The slogan of the national 30-hour famine organization is “Go hungry to help hungry kids.” Participants seek sponsors to donate money for each hour they refuse to eat. That money is sent to support initiatives around the world to teach people how to grow their own food. It may sound a bit extreme, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get people on the side of a worthwhile cause.

One person on Horvath’s side is fellow Pack Away Hunger student organizer Brittany Toney, who has committed to participate next year. Toney’s story is a bit different. The fellow third-year pharmacy major from Greenwood, Ind., was raised in the shadow of Pack Away Hunger’s headquarters in Indianapolis, Ind. As a result, she’s had the opportunity to participate in a few packing events, around eight by her count.    

“I’ve been involved with Pack Away Hunger for the past four or five years through my church,” she says. “They actually let me know they were planning an event here at ONU, so I emailed Chaplain McDonald and told him that I’d really like to help.”

Of the 40,051 meals ONU packaged, three-quarters will be sent to Haiti. The remaining 25 percent are being donated to the West Ohio Food bank, where they will help with hunger close to home.

It’s comforting to know that some of the food we are packing here today will stay in our area,” says Horvath. “It’s nice to know that we are helping our neighbors in the community have nutritious meals.

If you are wondering why ONU packaged exactly 40,051 meals, instead of a nice big round number, it’s because of a friendly challenge between university presidents. In November, Baldwin Wallace University hosted a Pack Away Hunger event on its campus. When ONU President Dan DiBiasio’s good friend, BW President Robert Helmer, told him they had packed 40,050 meals at their event, President DiBiasio informed him that ONU had just planned a similar event and thanked him for giving ONU a target to reach: their total plus one.

Pack Away Hunger hopes that the challenges continue among Ohio’s five Methodist universities. And if Otterbein, Ohio Wesleyan or Mount Union break ONU’s record for meals packed in two hours?

“That would be wonderful!” says DiBiasio. “Because it would mean that we are all working together to eradicate hunger.”