Lifeline Christian Mission partners with churches, schools, and others to provide the supplies—and opportunities—to serve people locally and globally through food-packing events.
By Ben Simms
Mix. Weigh. Seal. Ship.
These four simple steps involve several generations, as participants gather to package shelf-stable meals for the hungry. A meal-packing event is one of the easiest and most popular ways to engage a group of people, whether large or small, in a service project together.
The fun begins as you bring your group together, whether it’s your church, school, or employees. You host the meal-packing event at your location across the United States and Canada, and Lifeline Christian Mission brings the supplies to you.
Your participants—people of all ages and abilities—gather around a funnel to mix and weigh nutritious and tasty ingredients. Then these ingredients—such as rice, dried beans, and dehydrated vegetables—are sealed in a bag. And finally, the meals are shipped globally or shared locally by churches that participate in backpack programs or food pantries.
Over the years, these shelf-stable meals have been used in Lifeline’s ministry programs and shared with ministry partners around the world. They have been distributed as disaster relief and used in developing areas.
Meal Packing as a Disaster-Relief Tool
Sometimes the need for food is urgent!
A major natural disaster can disrupt food sources, flooding or washing away gardens and fields, and sometimes interrupting the ability of people in underdeveloped countries or communities to earn an income. This can lead to immediate food insecurity that a weakened local economy cannot handle. Some disasters can disrupt food sources for long periods of time.
We often think only of international disasters, but in 2017, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastated thousands of lives in Texas and Florida, respectively. Through the generosity of many in the U.S. and Canada, Lifeline shipped meals to churches in both states. These churches generously shared this short-term relief with neighbors by helping restock local food pantries with nutritious meals.
Meal Packing as a Local Outreach Tool
In the summer of 2017 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, members of Gentle Road Church of Christ came together and packed 21,000 meals for the kids in La Ronge, a community north of them. The church then personally delivered the oatmeal packs, which are fortified with vitamins.
“Last year there were six suicides in La Ronge and the surrounding communities, including Stanley Mission and Montreal Lake,” Gentle Road pastor Kevin Vance reports. “During our trip up north, we were able to deliver meals to all three communities. I couldn’t help but think about the significance of this fact, that we were taking gifts of kindness to all three of these communities. May the Lord cause these meals to be tangible signs of his love, of his presence, of his hope.”
The church packed oatmeal, Vance said, because “it is a culturally appropriate food that the indigenous people eat. When times are tough they add lard, bacon, fruit, or whatever they have on hand. We did this in consultation with a woman in La Ronge who lives on the reserve and reported that the kids sometimes go several days or even a week without much to eat. We are grateful for our partnership with Lifeline Christian Mission who prepared the meal-packing event for us.”
Meal Packing as an Education-Empowerment Tool
Enoch Nyador, 2017 International Conference On Missions president and executive director of Ghana Christian Mission, said the meals provide for the empowerment of thousands of students every day . . . students who simply couldn’t learn if they were hungry or malnourished.
We also see this firsthand within Lifeline’s own Christian schools in Haiti.
“What we’ve seen as a result of being able to feed the children here consistently is improved health, less stunting, and improved ability to learn in the schools,” said Gretchen DeVoe, Lifeline’s cofounder.
“But the greatest, eternal impact of having the meal packs is that everyone who receives the food also receives the message that God is the provider.”
Meal Packing as an International Community Development Tool
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
In 2017, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, was searching for a way to mobilize their congregation. They wanted to create a first step toward missions and draw their members into a greater mission calling, and so they partnered with Lifeline.
Meal packing was an approach that was scalable for a megachurch of Southeast’s size—20,000-plus weekly—and also enabled the church to develop a strategic distribution method that was in line with their mission strategies. Their mission partner, Life in Abundance (LIA), has a proven community development model. LIA figured out a way to distribute meals to the most vulnerable people in communities they were reaching out to in Kenya and Uganda.
LIA developed a plan through the local church to distribute meals to refugees, widows, and orphans. This past spring, members from our team traveled to Uganda and witnessed that these meals opened the door for LIA to work with the community to develop longer-term food independence.
Back home, Southeast also saw several hundred take the next step toward exploring greater global mission involvement.
Meal Packing Leveraged to Engage Your Community
Meal-packing events can be used as an outreach tool. Each year, Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, packs a million meals for their ministry partners in Haiti. Local businesses, sports teams, community groups, and others often serve together at the packing event. What an opportunity for the local church to engage the community!
It’s also an opportunity for churches to serve together. We have seen great examples where churches in the same town host a joint meal-packing event.
Meal Packing Leveraged to Engage Your Entire Church Family
It can be a struggle to find a service project—or any project—in which your entire church family can be involved. Yet, a meal-packing experience does just that.
One benefit of meal-packing service projects is that they typically are multigenerational. Preschoolers, senior adults, students, and parents can all pack meals together. Churches can use these events to model and teach about service, sacrifice, and caring for those in need. Meal-packing events coincide with service-project weekends and even Sunday morning “Be the Church” days.
“I love the fact that you allow younger kids to come and help out and are always so encouraging to them,” said Faith, the mother of an 8-year-old boy. “It means so much to have somewhere where Isaias and I can serve together and feel like we are making a difference, and he can start learning at a young age how to give of himself to help others.”
“We have so much fun, get to meet new people, and make new friends. We love what Lifeline does and feel so honored to be a part of it.”
Meal Packing Leveraged to Help Your Missionary
Churches can find it difficult to tangibly express their love for their missionaries and the communities they serve. Lifeline can come alongside a church to help a missionary it already supports. Meals often provide resource relief to the missionary, helping them provide for kids in their home or school. These meals also provide outreach and evangelism opportunities in the missionary’s communities.
When Northside Christian Church in Wadsworth, Ohio, and Westerville (Ohio) Christian Church came together to pack meals for their missionary in Zimbabwe, the meals fed the village for several years. By partnering together, these churches filled an entire shipping container with meals for the people of the Mushayamunda village. The missionaries used the meals during a drought to provide food security for their community.
More than Meals
Since 2007, more than 45 million meals have been packed at 800 different events by 275,000 participants with Lifeline.
But packing meals is simply one of many ministries we use to share Jesus’ love. In all we do, we seek to extend hope and elevate people everywhere to experience their God-given potential.
If you’re curious about hosting a meal-packing event, go to www.Lifeline.org/PackMeals. You also can contact us at Connect@Lifeline.org or (614) 794-0108. A variety of recipe options are available for local or global distribution.
Ben Simms serves as president and CEO of Lifeline Christian Mission.