Meals from the Heartland

A group of Evans Middle School combines rice, soy, vegetables and vitamins into meal packs for Meals from the Heartland. EMS students participated in the community service project Wednesday with the goal of packing 50,000 meals for the Food Bank of Southern Iowa. Hitting their goal would put them at a total of 250,000 meals for the organization since the school started the project several years ago.

OTTUMWA — Students at Evans Middle School were on pace to hit a milestone Wednesday. They were about to pack their 250,000th meal for Meals from the Heartland.

School counselor and organizer Megan Wetrich said the community outreach began four years ago. She said the principal at the time suggested participating in feeding the area’s hungry. “We started it that year, and it’s continued each year.”

Each meal bag was being packed by a group of students. The meals contain rice, vegetables, soy and vitamins.

“It’s meant to be a good base,” said Georgie Filber of Meals from the Heartland, a nonprofit out of Des Moines. “We keep it very simple, and the people can season it to their liking.”

Filler said that while most of the food the organization donates goes overseas, the packs prepared at Evans will stay in the Ottumwa area. “These meals are designed for international folks, but they do well here.”

Wetrich confirmed Wednesday’s meals, 50,000 of them, will stay local. In fact, the Food Bank of Southern Iowa was scheduled to come pick up boxes of the food Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s an opportunity for our students to be involved in giving back to the community, and that’s why we continue to do it,” Wetrich said.

In addition to Wetrich and Filber, several volunteers from John Deere and Ottumwa High School were on hand to supervise the middle school students and help them replenish their supplies. John Deere did more than supply volunteers, though. The company provided the funding for the supplies.

Sophomores Loren Egbert and Ciara Jones returned to Evans to help with a project they enjoyed as EMS students.

“I think it’s cool how we all come together to help our community out,” said Egbert. “Some of the kids helped me when I was in middle school, and I wanted that experience, too.”

Egbert said the students at her station made the community service project fun. “My tables were racing to see how many they can get done. I think they enjoy it.”

While the students found fun in packing the meals, it was also a learning experience.

“I know how to do it and should be able to teach them,” Jones said. And, she said, she thinks it helps bring hunger awareness to the students.

“They seemed excited to do it,” said Jones. “I think in the end, they’ll realize what cause they’re contributing to. Not a lot of people understand that there are other people starving.

“When I did it, it made me think, ‘Wow,’” she said. “The food doesn’t look that good. It made me think if they’re willing to eat this, they must not have a lot.”

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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