Thanks to a stampede of volunteers at Prairie Park Elementary School Sunday, 40,000 meals of beans and rice are packaged and ready to be delivered to the hungry in Douglas County.
About 460 people showed up to the United Way of Douglas County's Great Start Pack 2013 event, according to CEO Erica Dvorske. The drive drew such a degree of enthusiasm that a volunteer waiting list had to be drafted, and parking for the event spilled out into the streets around the school.
"It was a great team effort. Lots of folks volunteered well in advance to make this event a success," Dvorske said. "People love coming together and making things better."
The food, supplied by charitable organization Outreach International, now will be given to Just Food, which will distribute it through Douglas County food pantries, Dvorske said.
About 100 volunteers, working in one-hour shifts, packed into the modest-sized gym at a time. Grouped into teams of 10, they worked together in conveyer-belt fashion and cheered after packing each box to the brim with 36 bags of food.
The event also featured cooking demonstrations from former Free State Brewery chef Rick Martin. He stood on a stage with a camera-projector setup while showing how to make various dishes containing beans, rice and other cheap ingredients that cost just 50 cents a serving, he said.
After participating as a food packer at last year's Great Start Pack, Martin said he proposed adding more of an educational component to this year's event.
"I grew up eating beans and rice, and I grew up learning how to make it into a really surprisingly fantastic dish by adding other ingredients," Martin said.
Three cooking demonstrations occurred throughout the three-and-a-half hour event, allowing volunteers to go from packing food to receiving a quick cooking lesson, or vice versa.
"It's so good for our kids," volunteer Linda Brandenburger said of the event. "My kids have plenty of food, luckily, but I feel that we're all one step away from being in that situation."