My name is Jeff Behrend, and I am the executive director of Kids Against Hunger in Sioux Falls. I began working for this organization two years ago and was volunteering my time to them before that. I live in Sioux Falls with my wife and three children.
I come from a corporate world, and to come into something like this that has the type of outreach that Kids Against Hunger does has been incredible. This is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done.
Kids Against Hunger is a national organization that ships meals to starving children and their families in over 70 countries. The national headquarters are based in Omaha, where the food is prepared and regulated and the majority of supplies come from. Nationally, Kids Against Hunger packs about 20 million meals a year.
The Sioux Falls satellite for Kids Against Hunger began in 2009. Darrel Johnson, the founder of Kids Against Hunger Sioux Falls, had gone on a mission trip to Haiti and saw an extreme demand for food. So he began a local Kids Against Hunger satellite, where today, we bring in about 6,500 volunteers annually to help pack meals and have packed over 5.7 million meals since its inception.
Fifteen percent of the meals we pack stay in the Sioux Falls area. We partner with local organizations like Feeding South Dakota and area food banks who have the means to distribute the meals. We also partner with local businesses, churches, youth groups and surrounding communities for off-site packing, which can easily pack up to 150,000 meals in a single day.
The rest of the meals we pack go to Haiti; Guatemala; and Zambia, Africa. We partner with humanitarian organizations worldwide to ensure our meals are going directly to the families we intend to serve. Our board has traveled to all the countries and organizations we partner with, and I have also been to Haiti myself. I have personally handed out food and met the kids who receive our meals.
At our facility, we need a minimum of 10 volunteers to come in and run a packing line. The raw materials are set out in large containers, scooped and poured into bags, weighed and then sealed. Within one bag, six meals are ready to go. The meal is a rice casserole, which is a blend of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and vitamin mineral powder. Once the recipient receives the meals, they just need to boil it in water.
“We bring in about 6,500 volunteers annually to help pack meals and have packed over 5.7 million meals since its inception.”
Kids Against Hunger is all donation- and volunteer-dependent, so our two largest needs are monetary and people to come in and help pack. The more local people who donate their time to help pack meals, the more families around the world we are able to serve.
But beyond feeding children, we are also helping our local kids become more aware of a global need. Over half of our volunteers in Sioux Falls are students — kids who wouldn’t necessarily have a way to otherwise do something mission-oriented or serve somebody else. But at Kids Against Hunger, we welcome that age group in to do something beyond themselves and teach them that there is an extreme need for this all over the world — a need they are serving.
As for the money we receive, 91 percent of it goes directly to packing and shipping the food. A meal at our facility costs $.23, it’s about $.12 to pack the food, and the rest of the cost is in shipping.
When people come in to pack meals, we give some background, and we tell our story. As for me, there is a picture of me handing out food in Haiti, so I’m able to tell people that the food they pack that day will very shortly get to someone who desperately needs it. We have seen it with our own eyes, and we know this work is making a difference.
In December of 2015, my wife and I traveled to Haiti to adopt a little girl. We were there for two weeks for a socialization visit, and during that time, we had the opportunity to hand out food. We visited this one local village where people were living in houses made merely of pallets and plastic roofs. These families had no income and no means to support themselves, but we were able to give them enough meals to feed themselves for two weeks.
When my wife and I were there, we saw the need. It was so tremendous, and this is just one little thing that people can do to help others in a foreign country who have no means to feed their family. There is always going to be a need for food around the world, but here in Sioux Falls, we can help by bringing volunteers in and packing as many meals as possible. We just want to get as many people involved in this work as we can.