One hairnet wasn’t enough for Ivan Vargas.
On Friday at Lincoln High School in Lake City, the senior lineman for the Tigers football team was among hundreds of volunteers who worked in shifts to package food for hungry kids around the world during the second annual Hiawatha Valley MobilePack.
Hairnets are mandatory at such events, but Vargas needed an extra one.
“I’ve had a beard since seventh grade, so the hairnet thing is nothing new,” he said after he and his teammates wrapped up their two-hour shift. “I like helping people. I’ll do whatever it takes, as long as it benefits kids, and this was a fun experience.”
The Tigers weren’t the only football team that set aside some time on Friday to help Feed My Starving Children, a nonprofit organization that has delivered nutritious food to children in more than 70 nations since 1987. P-E-M, Wabasha-Kellogg and Goodhue made the road trip to Lake City for a friendly competition to see who could pack the most meals in two hours. The Lake City volleyball team also participated.
The teams’ task was to combine raw ingredients, including rice, soy protein, vitamins and vegetables, into “MannaPacks” that provide complete, balanced nutrition for hungry children in countries such as Haiti and Nicaragua.
How well did the athletes do?
Well, they worked so quickly they used up their allotted raw materials in an hour and 45 minutes, having packaged 57,456 meals — enough to feed 157 children for an entire year.
Hiawatha Valley MobilePack host/organizer Cate Sprout, who has been fundraising for a year to prepare for the two-day event in Lake City, is a longtime Feed My Starving Children volunteer.
“I started volunteering there several years ago when I worked in the Twin Cities, just 10 minutes from their Eagan facility,” she said. “Then, in 2016, my husband and I wanted to learn a little bit more about Feed My Starving Children, so we went to their gala. Finally, in 2017 we went with them to Haiti to deliver food and meet partners.”
That trip prompted Sprout to take the leap into organizing the first Hiawatha Valley MobilePack, which took place in Plainview last year and prepared 108,864 meals. This year, the goal for the two-day event was to double that amount to 200,000 meals, with a fundraising requirement of $44,000.
Sprout has plans to keep the momentum building for years to come, rotating from community to community.
“We want to brand it, so that people get accustomed to saying, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to the Hiawatha Valley MobilePack,’ “ Sprout said. “We’ll do it this same weekend every year. Really, it’s taking on a life of its own.”
While Friday’s food-packing process went off very smoothly, there was one small glitch; the results of the competition between the football teams were inconclusive, because despite Sprout’s efforts to keep things organized, their packaged meals weren’t kept separate from each other.
That might be the most appropriate outcome, however, as there were no losers in the Lake City gymnasium on Friday.
Wabasha-Kellogg head coach Tim Klingbeil said his team had never participated such an event. “This is great for creating community awareness, giving something back,” he said. “We’re cheering, we’ve got our uniforms on, our pulses are pumping and we’re excited to be here.”
So important was this event that Falcons made a big sacrifice to participate. “We’re in school already, so we’ve forfeited a practice to come to this,” Klingbeil said. “We saw this opportunity and put it on the schedule real early, and this is great for our team.”
Lake City head coach Trevor Narum said he and his coaches didn’t just bring their players to the gym and tell them to get to work. “When we started camp last week, we started prepping them for this event,” he said. “We had intended to go to Plainview last year to help, but it didn’t work out. This year, we’ve made sure the guys understand what this is all about.”
It’s possible that some of the participants in this weekend’s packing effort will someday be in Sprout’s shoes, leading a MobilePack event in southeastern Minnesota or elsewhere.
“There will probably be close to 300 MobilePacks this year across the United States,” she said. “Anybody can be a MobilePack host — there’s just requirements. If you can raise the funds, find the space and get the volunteers, you just contact Feed My Starving Children and you can host a MobilePack.”
And yes, even the host has to wear a hairnet.