How much rice could a rice packer pack if a rice packer would pack rice?
That's what the organization Feed My Starving Children is hoping to find out in Chattanooga in January.
The nonprofit, in collaboration with locally based Covenant Values Foundation, is seeking 8,000 volunteers to spend two hours in an Amnicola Highway warehouse packing 1.5 million meals for distribution among 70 countries around the world.
It's an opportunity, said Ann Underbrink Hill of Minnesota-based Feed My Starving Children, "to change the world from Chattanooga. Chattanooga has a rich tradition of generous giving, and we want to celebrate that gift."
She said the organization works in receiving countries directly with small partners, missionaries or other individuals with which it has a relationship and which can be directly accountable.
"That ensures the kids who need the food the most are receiving it," Hill said.
Of the 155 million meals Feed My Starving Children is expected to distribute this year, 40 percent will go to Haiti. Another large percentage is anticipated to go to central African countries.
Food will be packed this year at 270 events in 40 states.
The 61/4-inch by 81/2-inch fortified rice packages that will be assembled Jan. 16-20 in Chattanooga are specifically geared for underfed children, according to Hill.
"We are the largest organization that produces this kind of meal for malnourished and starving children," she said.
Steve Steele of Covenant Values Foundation, which has pledged a two-for-one gift to the nonprofit organization, said its collaboration with Feed My Starving Children serves two purposes.
"We saw two bangs for the buck," he said. "One, obviously, is feeding starving children. But it's also doing something good for the community. It's allowing people to cross paths who would not normally have crossed paths."
Hill said groups or individuals across generations and backgrounds are welcome -- and needed -- to be a part of the packing day. She said children as young as 4 to seniors as old as 100 have been involved at other sites.
"We can sign up one or 400," she said. "It doesn't matter. There are jobs for everyone."
Volunteers from Target, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Teen Challenge, Chattanooga State Community College and area secondary schools are among those who already have registered.
Hill said staff members of Feed My Starving Children talk to volunteers about hunger once they arrive and show them photos that portray the impact of the meals they'll pack.
"That connection is very important," she said.
Steele said he also appreciates that the organization recently received its seventh consecutive four-star rating from Charity Navigator and will spend 93 percent of its donations directly on feeding the hungry.
"Because of that and [its] transparency, it's in the top 2 percent of all charities nationwide," he said. So "[the time of volunteers and supporters] and resources could not have a greater impact. We know the community will come together to feed 1.5 million kids."
Steele said Covenant Values Foundation, which pledged in March to give away $1 billion by the time trustee Carey V. Brown retires, determines the agencies it assists by "two primary [biblical] buckets": James 1:27, which mentions orphans and widows (and others less fortunate by extension), and Matthew 18:18-20, which relates to evangelism and church planting.
Feed My Starving Children "fits square into both camps -- the great needs around the world and those not able to take care of themselves," he said.
The organization, he said, also "prays over every meal that it packages. I love that. Carey and I both felt [it] was a great match for our community."
To volunteer or donate, visit changetheworldfromchattanooga.org.