Kids Against Hunger Pleasanton Provides Life-Saving Meals - with Volunteers' Help

The facts are disturbing: every day, 14,400 children die worldwide from hunger-related causes. Of the 840 million people who are severely undernourished, 153 million are children under the age of five. Currently, 54 nations do not produce enough food to feed their populations.

A local group, Kids Against Hunger Pleasanton (KAH),aims to lower those numbers, and it is asking Hacienda businesses to help. The nonprofit organizes packing events to assemble fortified soy/rice casserole-style meals specifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of starving children. Then it ships the food to Haiti, where half the children do not live to age 15; and to the Philippines, where it is used in the fight against human trafficking.

Director Sherri Leal has been in her post since the Pleasanton nonprofit was launched in June 2010 by local businessman Sherman Balch. Balch had run into the national KAH organization when he was involved in Haitian earthquake relief efforts and was struck by both the simplicity and effectiveness of its operation.

"Starving children cannot digest processed foods," Leal explains. So KAH commissioned leading grain processors to engineer a proprietary soy component that has as much protein in one cup as a three-ounce steak. When mixed with rice, vitamins, and dehydrated vegetables, it makes gluten-free, easily digestible meals that supply all the nutrients necessary for the daily survival of a child up to the age of 10.

The meals are easy to prepare amid disaster conditions. Packed in heat-sealed plastic bags, the ingredients are simply mixed with water and boiled for 20 minutes. The cooking sterilizes the water so the meals are not just healthy but contaminant free.

To continue its good work, KAH is always on the look-out for volunteer groups to fund the purchase of ingredients and assemble them into meals. The packaging sessions present a rewarding team-building opportunity. "These are very hands- on events," Leal comments.Volunteers watch a video about the organization and the conditions at the shipment destinations. A small group can package 5,000 to 10,000 meals in a matter of hours. "At the end, people walk away seeing the pallet of food they've packed, knowing where it's going to be shipped. It's very satisfying and creates a real sense of bonding."

KAH packaging events can be scheduled at its Quarry Lane warehouse or on premises at the sponsoring business. "To go off site, we ask for a minimum of $2,500 worth of food. We rent a truck and bring everything - bags of ingredients, the cups, bowls, and scales."

This past July the local nonprofit packaged its one millionth meal. The fact that it hit this milestone in only two years speaks to the warm response it has received from the community, Leal notes. Support has come from all directions, from children raising money at lemonade stands to public and private school groups to local businesses, small and large.

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