Community invited to help prepare 20,000 meals for the hungry

This Saturday, several students from Culver Academies will be packaging no less than 20,000 meals for the hungry around the world, and they hope members of the community at large will join them.

They call themselves the Culver Hunger Fighters, and Saturday's "packaging party," if you will, is the culmination of a host of events at the school and beyond, all of which is the culmination of some remarkable experiences for the students.

Caitlynn Fortner (Dalton, Ga.) , Joy Shen (Oviedo, Fla.), Alex Ding (Edina, Minn.), and Jacqueline Mc- Closkey (DeMotte, Ind.) are the nucleus of The Hunger Fighters Project. It is a program they developed while Fortner and Shen were attending the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute in Des Moines, Iowa, during their junior year. The family of John Ruan III of Culver Military Academy’s class of 1962 established the World Food Prize Foundation in 1994 to assist Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman E. Borlaug in recognizing others for their significant contributions to ending hunger around the world.
Ding, who attended the state conference held at Purdue University, joined when they came back. McCloskey, who went to the World Food Prize meeting with her family, joined Hunger Fighters shortly thereafter.

“That night in Iowa, we decided we had to do this,” Fortner said.

At the conference, Fortner and Shen participated in projects designed to help them understand the issues and develop community action checklists. They also learned about the Kids Care International Outreach program, which handles the food packaging program.

The girls’ determination was bolstered when Fortner, Shen, and Ding each spent part of their summer witnessing the impact that food insecurity has on populations around the world. Fortner received an internship from the World Food Prize and spent her summer doing research in rural India. Ding, a Batten Scholar, spent part of her summer internship with a family in rural Morocco. Also a Batten Scholar, Shen studied the food market systems in Bolivia during her internship.

Back at Culver, the girls launched The Hunger Fighters Project ( with a simple goal: "to educate and empower youth about global food issues to take action in their community."

"Food insecurity," said Ding, "is the world's direst, solvable problem. What's worse (is that) we have enough food in the world to feed everyone —but, we just haven't. It's injustice at its most unacceptable. Luckily, we have the means to do something about it—and we are."

Specifically, the non-profit group Taking Action: Kids Against Hunger ( challenged Culver students to package 20,000 soy-fortified meals to send to locations local and abroad, which meant raising $5,000.

Towards that end, the students came up with a number of events, such as October's belly flop competition at the school's pool; a 24-hour fast on Oct. 16 for World Food Day; and the Culver Hunger Banquet: Feed Your Mind, which took place at the school November 2. Hosted by the Global Studies Institute and the Hunger Fighters Project, the banquet, "an effort to expose local and global hunger issues" meant to be a call to action as much as a fund-raiser.

The World Food Day fast and the Culver Hunger Banquet were used to illustrate how difficult it is for most people in the world to receive an adequate amount of food on a regular basis.

For the Hunger Banquet, the audience was divided up into three classes: 50 percent were declared lower class and given a small cup of rice they had to eat with their fingers; 35 percent made up the middle class and received a mixture of rice and curry they ate with a spoon; and the remaining 15 percent, with a minimum annual income of $9,000, were in the upper class and received a three-course meal while seated at a table.

The tricky part was that the upper class could also take food from the lower and middle classes to eat if they were still hungry and the other two classes could barter for more food or try and steal it from the kitchen, which was guarded.

Ding said by the time the evening was done, her arms were covered with watches and the group had also collected cell phones and class rings in exchange for more food. And some students admitted to finding ways to steal food. They have also partnered with other campus organizations that touch on global health because those issues are so tied to food security problems.

Everything they have done to date can be found on their website:

Those who would like to donate should put “Culver Food Packaging” in the purpose section so Hunger Fighters receives the credit. The funds are being funneled through the Kids Against Hunger program in Fort Wayne, Ind., and are tax deductible. Kids Against Hunger will be supplying the food for the packaging event.

The package will include rice, vitamin-fortified soy protein, dehydrated vegetables, and chicken flavored, vegetarian vitamin and mineral powder. The girls said each food package costs just 25 cents and will feed up to six children. The goal is to complete 20,000 food packages during the January 19 event.

The packaging event is slated for 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Academies dining hall. The effort will be overseen by Kids Against Hunger, a not-for-profit based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Those unable to attend but interested in donating directly to the cause may do so online via

*Jeff Kenney, Citizen editor, contributed to this article.