Small Hands, Big Effort Helps Feed Hungry Kids in Asia

In one day, Mount Mourne eighth-graders assembled and packed 21,000 nutritious meal packets for shipment to Azerbaijan. (
In one day, Mount Mourne eighth-graders assembled and packed 21,000 nutritious meal packets for shipment to Azerbaijan. (

Eighth-graders at Mount Mourne I.B. World School ( worked in assembly-line fashion in the school’s gym to package 21,000 nutritious meals for malnourished children a world away.

This wasn’t Principal Jason Van Heukelum’s idea or that of their parents. Samantha Freeman and Kendall Castillo, both 14 and friends since kindergarten, dreamed up and led the effort at the southern Iredell County school near the Lowe’s corporate campus. The girls organized fundraisers that netted $5,300 to provide the meals through Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief organization that has distributed 42 million meals since 1998.

Steve Deal, who manages Stop Hunger Now’s warehouse on Westinghouse Boulevard in Charlotte, said he’s never seen such an initiative sustained over so many months by students so young. “To this level, this is exceptional,” their principal said. Even Samantha was surprised at how many meals the students were able to assemble. “Our goal at first was 10,000,” she said. But she never expected their Phoenix Phun Run 5K in March to raise what it did, at least $4,000.

The meals will be shipped from Charleston to the former Soviet satellite country of Azerbaijan. The meals will be given to schools and orphanages. Each meal packet includes rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring mix with 21 essential vitamins and minerals.

While the students packed the meal together, top-40 music blared in the gym, and a gong sounded each time the students packaged another 1,000 meals to be loaded onto a Stop Hunger Now truck outside. The students erupted into cheers at each sounding of the gong. Each of the more than 100 eighth-graders had a task.

Samantha’s parents, Joe and Carol Freeman, helped out, too. “We didn’t plant the seed in her mind,” Joe Freeman said. “She did herself. My wife and I have just tried to support her. We are really proud.” Samantha learned about Stop Hunger Now on a 2009 youth religious retreat. Last year, she and Kendall attended a retreat that challenged them to open their eyes to the world’s needs. “We felt it was our responsibility to at least make an effort, to make a small act,” Samantha said. “It turned out much larger than we thought.”




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