* What: Feed My Starving Children MobilePack event.
* When: 8:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. today and Sunday.
* Where: Boyd-Buchanan School, 4650 Buccaneer Trail.
* Admission: Free.
* Information: To volunteer or donate, go to www.changetheworldchattanooga.org.
The Jett Gymnasium at Boyd-Buchanan School was a hot mess at the end of the two-hour session Friday morning, but a little rice on the floor here and a few cellophane gloves wafting in the breeze there didn't detract from the good feeling volunteers took away.
About 175 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from the school, smaller groups from several other schools and numerous adult volunteers, packed 34,560 enriched rice meals -- enough to feed 95 children every day for a year -- as part of a MobilePack event for the Feed My Starving Children organization.
"I know a kid, in a couple of days, is going to smile and have hope," said fifth-grader Emma Owens. "They don't have to worry about the future."
The event, which began Thursday and continues through Sunday night, has a goal of packing 1.5 million meals for children around the world. The organization's previous MobilePack event in Chattanooga last winter assembled 1.2 million meals.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, Boyd-Buchanan President Jill Hartness and Feed My Starving Children development adviser Dave Gunnlaugsson exhorted the volunteers to think beyond themselves before they received instructions on packing.
Volunteers, said Berke, "should be dedicated to doing good things not only here but around the world." Such an event, he said, "is how you help the community. You have a great bounty. Not everybody is as lucky as you."
Two short videos later, the students and adults scattered to Jett Gym, some to measure rice, some to weigh food, some to seal packets, some to pack boxes, some to tote refills and some to label.
As current songs by pop stars such as Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry -- and even a Wham! song for parents -- thumped in the background, volunteers, in assembly-line fashion, packed the 13.6-ounce plastic bags.
The bags, into which rice, protein-rich soy nuggets, vitamins and dehydrated vegetables were poured, each feed six children for 22 cents a serving.
"Most will be overseas in the next month," said Gunnlaugsson
At the end of the day's first of five two-hour shifts, he showed volunteers a photograph of a 3-year-old Haitian girl who appeared to be struggling.
Then he produced a second photo of the girl after she'd been fed for seven months on food sent by Feed My Starving Children. There was a palpable difference.
An audible "awwwwww" went up from the assembled.
"[The meals] save lives and kids," Gunnlaugsson told them. "You've become part of the story. You've done great things to bless them."
Volunteers also contributed donations they had raised or loose change in their pockets in an effort to offset the cost of the food. Up to $110,000 raised over the four days was to be matched two for one by locally based Covenant Values Foundation.
When a maximum of $110,000 was raised during last winter's event, the foundation kicked in $220,000.
The MobilePack was held at Boyd-Buchanan this fall, said Hartness, because "God brought us together."
She had run into Gunnlaugsson in June at a smaller packing event at her church, Clear Creek Church of Christ. He was there from the organization's headquarters in Coon Rapids, Minn., looking for a site to replace the warehouse where last winter's event was held. The conversation led to the school hosting the event. Students even helped with the set-up and will do so with the take-down.
"We could not be more thrilled," Hartness said. "It [has been] a huge blessing to have them on campus."
It also fits into the school's service component for students.
"Service is so important throughout the year," director of marketing Nicole Rogers said. "We want them to develop servants' hearts, and this has provided a fantastic opportunity to serve alongside Chattanooga residents."
Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to my posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.