No one needs to go hungry in this world. That is the sentiment held by local resident Teri Harmon, who teamed up with 200 generous Valley volunteers in late January to assemble more than 130,000 meals to be sent to children living in impoverished villages in Uganda.
The program is called “OneMeal” and is one of three sponsored by “Kids Around the World” a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit that empowers groups to be a part of the solution of child malnutrition. Another of the group’s projects is the “Playground Project.”
“I initially partnered with Kids Around the World and one of their projects is to refurbish old playground equipment, which is then sent to third world countries for less than 10 percent of the cost of a new playground,” said Harmon. “I took short-term mission trips to Uganda, Ghana, and Swaziland to install playgrounds in each of these different countries and bring awareness to my team of just how lucky we are to live in the United States. Children need to play as part of their overall development.
“This is where they learn to share, interact with each other, and get exercise.”
And it was that project that led Harmon to her efforts to combat hunger.
“Kids Around the World also has a food program in these same impoverished communities called ‘OneMeal’ where they may qualify to receive the vitamin-fortified meals that we assembled on January 22 at the Santa Ynez Valley Presbyterian Church at the ‘STOMP out Hunger’ project,” she said. “Kids Around the World have different contacts at different care points, such as orphanages, schools, homes, churches, and community feeding centers within each country and they know which communities are in the most need of food.”
Harmon personally sponsored the STOMP out Hunger event and Kids Around the World brought in all the ingredients such as rice, lentils, freeze-dried vegetables, and vitamin packets to be assembled by her team of volunteers. She explained that all of these ingredients go into one bag and one bag contains six meals. Thirty-six of these bags go into one box which is then sealed, placed on pallets, and packed into two vans which were then returned to Kids Around the World in San Clemente.
The boxes will then be loaded on cargo ships destined for different countries around the world. One box can feed one child for an entire school year.
“I personally have served thousands of these meals and I’ve noticed it is very nourishing for their bodies,” said Harmon. “The kids on the OneMeal program look good. They live from day to day and these meals provide a consistent nutritional balance.”
Harmon said she hopes to make this an annual project.
“I did one of these events before and I wanted to make it an annual event, but COVID hit and we had to take a break,” she said. “But people are still in need, maybe more so now, so I threw caution to the wind and with a lot of faith and good instincts about our very giving community, I’ve committed to doing one of these projects every year, God willing.”
Harmon didn’t hesitate to credit the people who helped her get the project off the ground.
“I couldn’t have done this without the help of Joanne Clark’s connections in getting the word out. It was all done by word of mouth,” she said. “Linda Johansen helped get the word out to the Rotarians and I started making a lot of phone calls, emails, and social media posts, and it worked.”
When Harmon was initially planning the event, she said she was a little nervous that she wasn’t getting enough RSVPs to put it on.
“The RSVPs were coming in slowly, but our amazing Santa Ynez Valley community came in and surprised me. Two hundred people showed up to help out,” said Harmon. “It was a Valley-wide effort. Everyone arrived at 11 a.m. and we were finished by 3 p.m.
The volunteers who helped put on the event came from many different sources.
“Students from Santa Ynez Valley High School, Midland, and Dunn schools helped me to set up all the tables, which were rented, and did all the heavy lifting,” Harmon said. “There were tables inside the family center, on the patios, outside the church, and up and down the sidewalks. Thirty-five Solvang Rotarians arrived along with six Los Olivos Rotarians, more than 65 members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, from many different wards, also came to help.
“There were family units as well as one man in particular, my Drivers Ed instructor from 1973 (he had also taught my daughter 10 years ago) who showed up to help and mentioned he was glad I had mentioned in my email that volunteers between the ages of 10 and 99 were needed, since he was 94. There were some pretty fast assemblers between Dunn and Midland schools but mostly from very dedicated people who wanted to be there, both inside and outside in the fresh air.”
Despite here earlier worries, Harmon was thrilled at the outcome of the event.
“It was poetry in motion, everyone working together in the spirit of giving and it was a beautiful day,” she said. “I met so many people for the first time. It was an amazing event. The final count was 130,200 meals beating our previous record of 100,000!”
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