More than 600 volunteers — including at least 250 high school students — joined forces on Nov. 5 in San Clemente, California, to assemble over 130,000 dry-packaged meals for those in need in their area.
The project was organized by local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and listed on JustServe in order to be open to all in the community. JustServe is a website and app where volunteers can connect with local service opportunities.
Several of the teens who showed up to volunteer belong to JustServe clubs at their high schools. San Clemente High School student body president Mason Ord said, “We love these types of community gatherings. It’s been cool to see many young kids here today wanting to work and serve. It makes me excited about our future.”
The volunteers filled the San Clemente California Stake center, working in three shifts throughout the day. Stake President Troy A. Bourne said, “We spend a lot of time with these great kids and families who want to do good in our community but aren’t sure where to start. They wanted to do something that really matters, and what matters more than feeding the hungry?”
Capistrano Unified School District School Board trustee Lisa Davis observed that there were students in attendance from nine schools and multiple church and service groups. Volunteers also came from San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and Capistrano Beach.
“I loved seeing our community unite and serve one another in love,” she said.
The volunteers worked in an assembly line to package the nutrient-rich Harvest Pack meals and place them in boxes. A volunteer at the end of the line would ring a gong when each one of the 400 boxes was filled and taped.
The meals went to Family Assistance Ministries, which is a large nonprofit organization in Orange County offering homelessness prevention services, a women’s shelter, food bank and other services.
“It couldn’t come at a better time,” said Troy McAlpin, director of development for Family Assistance Ministries. “Over the past 45 days, I’ve been giving daily tours to new volunteers at the pantry. When I open our freezer doors and see they’re almost empty, but we have a line of cars wrapped around the building waiting to pick up food, I can’t fully express how meaningful it is to know these shelf-stable packages will help hold things over through the spring.”
Family Assistance Ministries relies on rescued food to continue operations, and with recent soaring prices and food shortages, grocery stores are holding on to their stock longer — making the need greater than ever, he explained.
And with food insecurity ranking among the top three local needs according to the recent Orange County Community Health Needs Assessment, the event organizers plan to make this effort an annual event — especially after seeing the success of community turn-out and food output.
Christy Farris, the marketing assistant at Reata Glen Retirement Community in Rancho Mission Viejo, brought 33 residents on a bus to volunteer. Farris said, “We love the opportunity to give back and to experience the joy that comes from service.”