After a one-year hiatus during the COVID pandemic, the Wilton Interfaith Action Committee (Wi-ACT) is once again holding the Rise Against Hunger Meal Packaging Event. This is one of the most important, inspiring volunteer events in which the Wilton community comes together to package nutritious meals for food-challenged children wherever in the world the need is greatest.
Typically, 750 volunteers package 150,000-160,000 meals each year, and the event is the largest Rise Against Hunger meal packaging effort in New England. Over the past 12 years, Wilton has packaged almost 2 million meals.
Although Wi-ACT can hold the event this year, COVID protocols will still impact fundraising and volunteering, and Wi-ACT has lowered its goal to now package 50,000-90,000 individual meals — enough to feed 150-250 malnourished children for an entire year.
Wi-ACT has met its fundraising goals, but volunteer spots are still open for the event, which will be held on Saturday, Oct. 23, returning to the WEPCO complex (48 New Canaan Rd.). The Wilton community needs to step up to volunteer to make sure that Wi-ACT can satisfy the commitment and meet its meal packaging goal. [Sign up online.]
Participating in the one-day event is one of the most life-changing activities, one which families can do together. It’s a moving, emotional, fun and gratifying thing to do, and it’s thrilling to be part of as the community comes together to help others.
This year, organizers have consulted town health officials as well as Wi-ACT Steering Committee medical advisors to make sure participants are protected with COVID protocols:
- All volunteers must be fully vaccinated (age 12-and-older, please bring vaccination cards)
- Masks will be worn during volunteer shifts
- Social distancing will be maintained
- Have a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event
Knowing that getting a COVID test can be a hurdle for volunteers, event organizers have secured the help of Wilton’s own Waveny/Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Fairfield County to conduct testing the day before the event, on Friday, Oct. 22, from 12-4 p.m. at WEPCO. Testing is free, and volunteers can show up, be tested, and after 15 minutes get the results to allow them to participate. (Volunteers can also seek their own testing, as long as they do so within 72 hours of the packaging event and bring proof to the event.)
Wi-ACT organizers emphasize how many Wilton individuals and organizations come together to make the event happen. There are the 11 Wi-ACT member faith institutions; corporate, individual and civic donors; and the Wi-ACT Steering Committee and subcommittee volunteers to produce the event.
This year, Wi-ACT is grateful to sponsors who are financially making the event possible, including:
Premier Level: Wilton Kiwanis Club, the Kaskell Family
Presidential Level: the Gortz Family
Chairman Level: Charlotte A. Griffin, the Stroup Family, Anonymous
Patron Level: Caraluzzi’s Market, Garavel Auto, Gregory & Adams, P.C., Orem’s Diner, The Little Pub, Village Market
Benefactor Level: Lisa Gioffre Baird, ESQ., the Brautigam Family, Mark Grorud, Max Dental, Teddy Woods, and Wilton Rotary Club
Wi-ACT also thanked WEPCO for hosting the event, Waveny Lifecare Network conducting COVID tests, and Paul’s Prosperous Printing and graphic designer Rick Mapes for print materials.
Wi-ACT is led by its Steering Committee of 36 members drawn from 11 Wilton faith institutions. Its two officers are Dave Gortz as Treasurer and Stephen Hudspeth as Chair. More than a dozen Steering Committee members lead the subcommittees responsible for the many moving parts that make the meal-packaging operation work:
- Fundraising Chair: Jack McFadden; committee members: Gortz, Mark Grorud, Madeleine Wilken
- Liaison with Rise Against Hunger, Inc.: Gortz
- Manager of Packaging Floor Operations: Tim Cummins, Don Weber
- Webmaster: Paul Breitenbach
- Provisioners: Char Griffin, Pam Klem
- Medical Support: Dr. Hossein Sadeghi, Dr. Golnar Raissi, Peggy Zamore
- Registration on Event Day: Marilyn Van Ralke, Kathleen Rooney
- Nonperishable Donations: Jane Alexander, Phyllis Boozer
- Signage: Pam Ely
(Volunteers are also asked to bring a non-perishable item for the Wilton Food Pantry to help people in need locally, including tuna fish, peanut butter, jam, pancake mix/syrup, canned fruit, juices, spaghetti sauce, beef stew, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pie crusts/fillings, soups, Jello, paper goods, baby food, and baby formula.)
Wilton Kiwanis Club Steps Up to Make Event Possible
With COVID stretching many of the traditional fundraising sources, funding was a significant concern for organizers. At 31-cents per meal for ingredients, the number of meals produced is directly related to funding.
Organizers say they are especially grateful to the Wilton Kiwanis Club and its members who contributed more than one-third of the funding for the event — in total Kiwanis members are responsible for more than $11,000, which translates to more than 35,000 meals and a hands-on service event unmatched within the community.
“We are fortunate that both WI-ACT’s fundraising leader Jack McFadden and treasurer Dave Gortz are also members of the Wilton Kiwanis Club,” Steve Hudspeth, WI-ACT Chair, said. “The Kiwanis and its individual members have made an extraordinary donation to make sure Wilton has this opportunity to serve. We can’t begin to thank them enough.”
After seeking support from the Club, the Kiwanis Contributions Committee and Board started with donations and the rest of the membership followed with unprecedented enthusiasm. The result? The Kiwanis contribution to the meal-packing event in 2021 is more than $11,000, up from $500 in 2019.
“We knew this would be a tough year for donations and felt we needed to step up to make sure this amazing event had the support it needed,” explained Kiwanis Director of Communications Jack McFadden. “Although COVID has hurt many businesses, through key fundraising programs — especially citrus and pumpkins sales — Kiwanis has thrived. During this period of need, we are able to come forward to ensure worthy events that make our community strong continue to benefit Wilton.
At a recent Wednesday Kiwanis lunch meeting, Hudspeth received on behalf of WI-ACT a check for $8,625. But that’s not all. Including contributions from Kiwanis members, the total reached more than $11,000. “Our focus for donations is usually Wilton first,” said Kiwanis Contribution Committee Chair Dave Hapke. “This was an opportunity for Wilton to demonstrate hands-on service for the benefit of the hungry around the world.” The initial donation from the committee was $2,000. Then members of the Board added $3,000 for a total of $5,000. When all members were given the chance to contribute the final amount more than doubled.
“The broad-based eagerness for members to support this event is inspiring. The desire to care for the hungry starts in Wilton, but truly has no boundaries,” said Kiwanis President Den Taylor.
Visit the Wilton Kiwanis Club website to learn more about the service organization.