Providing food for the people of Liberia

DES MOINES — People from Iowa and Minnesota are helping to feed Liberians who are battling the Ebola virus.

Iowa-based Outreach, Inc., responds to the Ebola crisis by loading the first 300,000 of 1 million going to the Liberia for patients in Ebola treatment centers. Pictured are Leon Sporrer, of Ankeny, event coordinator for Outreach, Inc., left; Luis Arredondo, diversity ministry outreach at Lutheran Church of Hope, Walter Gwenigale, on Church of Hope's mission board and, whose parents are Christian health workers in Liberia; Gus Gustafson, minister Lutheran Church of Hope; Rick McNary, vice president of strategic partnerships at Outreach, and Shawnna Etchieson, warehouse manager at Outreach.

DES MOINES — People from Iowa and Minnesota are helping to feed Liberians who are battling the Ebola virus.

Outreach Inc., of Union, shipped 300,000 nutritious meals to the Ministry of Health in Liberia on Sept. 18. Another 300,000 were shipped two weeks ago. The first meals should reach their destination by early November.

Walter Gwenigale Jr., equal employment manager at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Des Moines, has family in Liberia.

His father, who is from Liberia, completed his medical training in the United States. He and his wife returned to Liberia in 1973 as Christian health care workers. His father is a surgeon, and his mother an anesthetist. They ran Phoebe Hospital in central Liberia.

In 1990, because of Civil War, Gwenigale, his mother, sister and brother were evacuated to the United States. His father stayed and continued to provide healthcare at Phebe Hospital.


After many years of civil conflict, peace returned, and the country began to rebuild, Gwenigale said. But Ebola hit West Africa earlier this year.

When Gwenigale visited his family in Liberia this summer, he saw people not only struggling with Ebola but struggling for meals. His father now serves as the Liberian health minister.

"Traditionally, in Africa and Liberia, the hospital focuses on providing health care, and meals are provided by family members," Gwenigale said. "With Ebola, patients are quarantined so family members can't get to them to bring meals."

When Gwenigale returned to Iowa in August, he started looking for help to meet the nutritional needs of Ebola patients.

His church, Lutheran Church of Hope in Des Moines, put him in contact with Floyd Hammer. Hammer founded Outreach Inc. with his wife, Kathy Hamilton, to provide food, clean water, medical care and education to the people of rural Tanzania. Outreach is one of the nation's largest nonprofit organizers of charity meal-packing events, providing nutritious meals to the needy both at home and abroad. The organization has helped package over 259 million meals over the past 10 years.

When they met, Hammer told Gwenigale they had to do something about the crisis in Liberia.

"He got on the phone, and after a couple of calls, he told me they could get 500,000 meals to feed people in Ebola treatment centers," Gwenigale said. "With his efforts and the awareness we created about what's happening in West Africa, that has now grown to more than one million meals. We still have 400,000 more meals to ship."

Outreach was concerned because this year, because of the Ebola crisis, 40 percent of farmers who normally would have farmed did not.


"Knowing that farmers did not farm meant that eventually there would be a greater need in the country because food production would be low, and the cost of commodities would be higher," Gwenigale said. "In an attempt to help the situation, they saw this as a great opportunity to partner with the people of Liberia in their incredible hour of need."

Gwenigale worries about the well being of his father and other family members who live in Liberia.

"I've lost family members to the epidemic," he said. "It brings it home. Scientists around the world are doing as much as they can to research a cure for Ebola. We're prayerful the world's response to this tragedy will eventually lead to a vaccination or medication that cures Ebola."

Hammer said Outreach meal-packing associates Food for Kidz, Liberty Ministries, KAH Brainerd and Friends Against Hunger have provided meals for the Liberia effort. Lutheran Church of Hope in Des Moines and Minneapolis-based Global Health Ministries partnered in supporting the cost of shipping of the first consignment of donated meals.

"For the second container, many Liberians from the Des Moines area packaged meals for their family and friends who are suffering in Liberia," Hammer said.

Gwenigale said it costs $7,500 to ship a container of food to Liberia.

If your group would like to package meals for Outreach to Liberia, call Outreach at 641-486-2550, or email

Tax-deductible donations can be made at, by texting OUTREACH to 641-243-4341 or sending a check to Outreach Inc., 301 Center Street, Union IA 50258. Specify Outreach to Liberia when you give.


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