Run For Food International, which launched its inaugural food drive in Bradley County several weeks ago, climaxed the endeavor on a day of volunteerism when area residents and Lee students helped to package 60,000 meals that have been shipped to impoverished villages in the Central American country of Honduras.
Chuck Lovelace, a Lee alumnus and former executive director for the local affiliate of Junior Achievement who also held administrative roles for the old Lee College and Forward in Faith, said his organization’s first endeavor has been called a success.
As important as 60,000 meals will be for recipient Honduran villages, the Cleveland project was also a model for the fledgling nonprofit organization which earned its status earlier this year as a 501(c)(3) from the Internal Revenue Service.
Lovelace co-founded Run For Food International with John Hewitt, founder of Liberty Tax Service Company, a U.S.-based tax return specialist whose operation was launched in 1998. The company got its start a year earlier in Canada as Jackson Hewitt.
RFFI is headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va., which was Lovelace’s destination when he left Cleveland in 1988. Lovelace still has family and friends in the Cleveland community and he visits frequently.
The organization’s campaign began in Cleveland several weeks ago by seeking out financial sponsors for the meals which are packaged using separate ingredients like rice, soy, dried vegetables and vitamins. Lovelace admitted he started the local drive with a lofty goal. Although it fell short of his expectations, it still netted 60,000 meals and served as an invaluable model for future food drives in other cities across America.
The fundraiser climaxed recently with the meal-packaging event on the Lee campus. Ironically, the big day of volunteerism came a week before National Make A Difference Day.
“Over 250 volunteers of all ages gathered to participate in this lively and enjoyable (meal-packaging) event,” Lovelace said. “The oldest participant was 90 years old from Signature Health Care facilities and the youngest was the 4-year-old grandson of one of the volunteers. The two worked side-by-side for a one-hour shift sealing the bags [with rice, soy, dried vegetables and vitamins].”
Lovelace said the army of volunteers was comprised of several groups and many individuals. Many were Lee University students, but Lake Forest Middle School also chipped in and the Lee University baseball team was especially helpful by providing the “muscle” to lift the heavy containers of original ingredients for other volunteers who were sorting them into smaller-packaged bags.
Lovelace pointed to the work of Lake Forest which raised money to pay for meals by participating in a “Walk for Food” event. Then, 24 Lake Forest “Ruriteens” and faculty members worked together to package more than 5,000 meals, he said. Each meal will go toward feeding a hungry Honduran child, he said.
“Each meal cost a quarter [to prepare] and is often the only food a child will eat in an entire day,” he said.
The hard-working crew of volunteers made a big difference in the day’s progress, Loveless stressed.
“The Lee University Flames baseball team provided the muscle to keep the rice and soy containers full while the meals were being packaged,” Lovelace cited. “They carried the 50-pound bags of rice and soy to each of the 10 work stations throughout the day.”
The completed pallets of meals were loaded onto an Operation Compassion truck which transported the meals, along with other staples, to targeted village groups in Honduras and Central America, he explained.
Lovelace acknowledged the Cleveland model will be invaluable in organizing future campaigns in other communities and perhaps again in Cleveland.
“Participation (financial sponsors) was not as good as we had anticipated, but we realize Run For Food International is a new organization and an event like this is new to the community,” Lovelace said. “We were able to achieve our objective to build a model that can be used in other communities in the future. We were also able to provide nearly 300 boxes of food (representing 60,000 meals) that will sustain lives.”
He added, “All in all, it was a great event. Everyone who participated in the meal packaging left saying they had a great experience and wanted to do it again next year.”
The mission of Run For Food International is to find innovative and sustainable solutions that will end world hunger, Lovelace explained.
“Every 3.6 seconds, someone in the world dies from hunger or a hunger-related illness,” he cited.
Lovelace said he understands the Cleveland and Bradley County community, and countless churches, organizations and individuals, are directly involved in the ongoing recovery efforts following the devastating storms of April 27.
He said he, and the entire RFFI organization, are thankful to all who participated in helping the new nonprofit to achieve its inaugural community project.