Sunday, January 21, 2018
Education

Politics aside, RNC week provides a chance to give back to hungry families

TAMPA

A single mother in West Tampa opened her cupboard the other day and stared at a packet of ramen noodles and a box of cereal.

The food stamps hadn't come yet. Neither had her check from WIC, a federal program that gives aid to low-income mothers.

Meanwhile, her five children — all growing boys with big appetites — bounded around the house.

"What's for dinner?" they asked her.

Don Campbell knows what that feels like.

As a poor child growing up in Largo, there were many nights Campbell went to bed hungry. It's the reason he created the nonprofit group Feeding Children Everywhere, and the reason he is putting together a massive food-packaging event in Tampa during the week of the Republican National Convention.

Politics have nothing to do with the cause, Campbell said, but the extra publicity around the event makes it a perfect time to attract volunteers.

Over four days, thousands of people will put together packets of rice, lentils and spices for distribution to food pantries and schools throughout the country — including schools in Hillsborough and Pinellas.

"We thought this was a great stage to expose the hunger problem here in America," Campbell said. "Not just to bring awareness of it, but also to show how we can work together, how the bay area can work together."

The goal is to package 3 million meals from Monday to Thursday.

Campbell is hoping to have 20,000 volunteers. Participation costs $10.

The event, which includes a station for young children to decorate shipping boxes, is taking place at 1101 E Palm Ave.

Paying upwards of $10,000 each, several corporate sponsors are helping to pay for the $750,000 total cost of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to be packaged, Campbell said.

Each completed meal pack winds up costing a little more than a dollar and feeds six people.

Campbell often cooks the rice-and-lentil meal for his own family. He wants his four children to understand how important a simple meal like that is.

It's certainly something Campbell's family could have used growing up.

After his father committed suicide and his mother remarried an abusive man who had trouble paying the bills, the then elementary-age Campbell was forced to take on much of the household's adult responsibilities. It often included cooking for himself and his three younger sisters in a home where food could be scarce.

It made school particularly difficult.

"When you're 10 or 12 years old, and you're hungry, I can tell you from experience," Campbell said, "you're not real interested in what the teacher's saying."

One of those meal packs could make a real difference in a child's day, and ultimately their lives.

Plus, "It's very tasty," he said.

Monica Shaw, the single mother, just tried one of the packs for the first time — during that particularly hungry week before the food stamps came.

She added a little ground beef, a little extra spice, and it was a hit.

"A real blessing," she said.

Shaw said she'll be at the RNC-week event herself, stuffing meal packs with the rest of the volunteers. She knows hers isn't the only family in need of a little extra help.

The food, she said, "is a week supply of somebody's I'm-going-to-make-it."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.

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