Preparations Continue For The United Way Of Williams County ‘Feeding Williams County’ Event

With expanded selections from which to choose and a greater need than ever, the 2017 ‘Feeding Williams County’ meal packaging event is going to be huge.

Mr. Bill Pepple, the Executive Director of the United Way of Williams County, unveiled the plans for the event at the first United Way Hunger Summit event of the year on January 26, and stressed that Feeding Williams County – 2017 would need a significant amount of volunteers, as well as a significant amount of fundraising in order to pull it off. Being staged on April 22 at the Gillette Building on the Williams County Fairgrounds, the event is coordinated with The Outreach Program of Union, Iowa, which supplies everything, from the food to be packaged, to the actual packages, weighing devices, hermetic sealers and boxes. All that is required at the local level is the funding to purchase the foods, and the volunteer manpower to prepare, weigh out, package and box up the meals. If it sounds like I am trivializing either need, trust me, I am not. The needs on both sides are equally profound.

According to Mr. Pepple, a minimum of 300 volunteers will be needed in order to properly staff the processing lines for the three shifts that will be packaging the meals at the event. There are those who will suggest that the unemployment numbers are down, therefore the recession must be over, and their participation is unnecessary. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the unemployment numbers do not go into detail in two important areas. First, someone who holds a minimum wage, 10-hour a week part-time job is not considered unemployed. They will probably fall into the underemployed category, which is not factored in on the unemployment numbers. Second, there is a substantial pool of employble people who, being unable to find suitable employment, have simple given up hope, stopped trying to find work, and dropped off the employment radar. They are invisible in the unemployment count. These two groups of people are substantial in number in our own back yard, and are in need of assistance, not statistical analysis.

“I think that hunger is really unknown in Williams County,” Mr. Pepple explained. “I really think that it’s ‘food insecurity’ rather than hunger. Sometimes people have food…but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes their expenses exceed their income, and they are forced to make choices. For example…buying medication, paying bills, or buying food. That insecurity arises out of simply not having enough money.

There are those who say that unemployment is only 4.5 percent, and that these people need to get a job. That isn’t the point. The point is that some of these people just don’t make enough money in their current situation in order to handle all of the expenses that they have…and that’s a real problem. The people that have more, don’t seem to understand that there is a genuine need. These are not freeloading people! This could be the working poor. This could be broken families. There could be an illness in the family. There could be a death in the family. There are a lot of possible situations. We just can’t turn our backs on these people, and that’s why we have the Feeding Williams County event. This is something that the volunteers and groups can sink their teeth into, and say, ‘This is what we did. The United Way helped, but this was something that WE did!'”

In 2016, there were two meal options being processed at the packaging event…red beans and rice, and macaroni and cheese. The red beans and rice, a new entry last year, was well received amongst all the food pantries across Williams County, but the popularity of the old stalwart macaroni and cheese has been on the wane for quite a while. The 2017 event will see the continuation of the beans and rice, but the discontinuation of the macaroni and cheese. It will be replaced by a time tested, proven family favorite…pasta with a tomato-basil sauce meals.

In addition to the pasta and sauce, another new addition will debut at the event…a six serving bag of vitamin and protein enriched apple-cinnamon oatmeal with real apples. Each serving will contain 16 percent of the recommended daily value of dietary fiber, 13 percent of the recommended daily value of protein, and 20 different essential vitamins and minerals. Like the beans and rice and pasta, the oatmeal was created in collaboration with Iowa State University Food Science Department in order to maximize the nutritive values.

With three meal varieties instead of two, the need for volunteers is obviously greater in 2017 than it was in 2016. Individuals, as well as families, businesses, clubs, church congregations and civic organizations that wish to form teams of volunteers, and the volunteers need not be locals. Just because the event is called, ‘Feeding Williams County’ though, does not mean that only Williams County residents may take part. In fact are all welcomed to participate in what has become has become one of the biggest neighbor-helping-neighbor events in the area, whether they arrive from Williams, Fulton or Defiance Counties, or even Indiana or Michigan. With a target of 80,000 meals to be packaged over three shifts, any and all help will be made more than welcome. “On the commitment side,” Mr. Pepple said, “I don’t want volunteers to be committed to more than three or four hours at the max. I’m not going to ask anyone to come work an eight hours shift…especially on a Saturday!” Openings are filling up, but there is always room for you, or your team. To inquire about participating at the 2017 Feeding Williams County event, contact the United Way of Williams County at 419-636-8603.

On the other side of the equation is the need to generate funds to pay for the 80,000 meals. Each prepackaged meal comes out to 22.5 cents per package, or around five cents per serving. Try to find a deal like that in your local grocery stores, even with coupons! While that cost is incredibly low, when that cost is multiplied by 80,000 packages, it comes out to $18,000. In the works since March 1 is a fundraising project that is similar to other familiar fundraisers found in area gas stations and convenience stores. For a minimum $1.00 donation, anyone can purchase a colorful “I Choose to LIVE UNITED” card that will be signed and displayed in the establishment of the participating vendor. As of today, the local businesses participating in the event include all branches of the Williams County Public Library, all Williams County Main Stop locations, Bryan Ford Lincoln and the office of the Bryan Times. Other financial donations toward the $18,000 price tag will be graciously accepted, and a call to the offices of the United Way of Williams County at 419-636-8603 is all that is needed to get the ball rolling.

Your helping hands and giving hearts are most definitely in need.

Timothy Kays can be reached at tim@thevillagereporter.com

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