By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 11, 2019
COLLEGE PARK—More than 600 people showed up at Starve Wars to pack some 86,400 meals for people in need.
The four-year-old event kicked off the 24th annual Eucharistic Congress, Friday, June 21. It’s a collaboration between the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Catholic Relief Services and Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger relief organization.
The meals, along with financial assistance, go to the west African country of Burkina Faso. The food supports immediate needs, while the money funds sustainable agriculture and economic development projects. Citizens of Burkina Faso face recurring drought with nearly constant food insecurity.
Upbeat pop music boomed through the convention hall at the Georgia International Convention Center to keep volunteer teams energized. Like clockwork, meals were assembled, starting with a nutrient powder, followed by a vegetable protein, dehydrated vegetable medley and finally, rice. One bag supplied six servings of food. Sporadically, a large gong boomed to mark another 5,000 meals packaged.
“The air is electric with people helping,” said Alexandra Shattuck, who was making her first appearance at the event. Shattuck retired from the Army after a 32-year career. She left military service as a colonel and now leads religious education at St. Jude the Apostle Church, Sandy Springs.
Organizers with the Justice and Peace Ministries invited military veterans to come to the Friday morning event to connect with each other. Auxiliary Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III, who was an Air Force pilot before attending seminary, greeted volunteers and thanked veterans he met for serving the country.
Shattuck said she saw a willingness to be self-giving among her Army colleagues. She said whenever there was blood drive or other needs, people always stepped up. During her year-long tour in Afghanistan, members of the military would take up the responsibility to make sure the group of Catholics on base prayed together.
The Friday morning event was uplifting. Shattuck said she enjoyed seeing youngsters and families pitching in to hit the goal.
“We put our heads down making meals for people we will never see, but have been able to touch,” she said.
Starve Wars hit a milestone during the morning. The volunteers packed the 10 millionth meal in the Catholic Relief Services Helping Hands program at the 2019 Eucharistic Congress.
For Toby Gant and his family, Starve Wars has become a tradition. The Gants have volunteered every year since the campaign started. The family lives in Cumming and attends Good Shepherd Church. They left their home before 7 a.m. to get to the event center on time.
Gant, 48, served on the aircraft carrier USS America during its deployment for Desert Shield, the buildup of troops and defense of Saudi Arabia in 1991. He served in the Navy from 1990 to 1994.
Gant, who works for Deloitte, a multi-national professional services network, said “God’s given us so much, we want to do our part to help others.”
“It’s a human need; people need food. It’s not hard to drive into Atlanta for one morning,” said Grace Gant, a rising senior at Forsyth Central High School. She said spending a morning on this project is a small effort with a big reward.
Neighbors Sherry Proctor and Dawn Kernan came with their children. Kernan is a regular at the faith-filled weekend and sent an email to friends inviting them to join her at the meal-packing program. Proctor, 41, responded, along with her two sons, Anthony and Anderson. The youngsters attended last year and wanted to return.
Proctor said she hoped the experience shows her boys how faith requires them to be charitable and help people in need.
For Kernan, the meal packing starts a weekend she looks forward to every year. She stays in a nearby hotel to participate in the Eucharistic Congress weekend, including a visit to the early morning quiet of the adoration chapel.
“As soon as I can, I sign up,” said Kernan. “It gets the weekend started right.”