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Young girl in a hair net is holding a bag under a funnel, waiting for a scoop of vitamins to be placed in the bag.
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Slammin’ Famine to Save Kids’ Lives

Discover the incredible way many hands make lifesaving meals for starving children around the world and how one man’s obedience to God is empowering a community through an event called Slammin’ Famine.


 

Let me tell you a story—a story of how God reveals his glory in and through us. It’s the story of how God can change this world one person at a time. It’s the story of two ordinary men who responded to God’s call.

Responding to the Call

On a family vacation in June of 2013, God called Eric Dowdy to something bigger than himself. “I was reading Crazy Love (by Francis Chan) one morning,” Eric shares, “and I felt God inviting me to participate with him. Not because I have to, but because I get to.”

Eric Dowdy and Brian Zonnefeld standing at in a warehouse.
Eric Dowdy and Brian Zonnefeld, coordinators of the NoCo is Slammin’ Famine event.

When Eric returned home to Fort Collins, Colorado, he shared his experience with his friend. “Brian and I had been learning in our Bible study to give back with ‘we get to’ attitudes. We knew of local small groups that wanted to be more active, but they didn’t know where to put their time,” Eric explains. “What we did sense is that God wanted us to bring the faith-based community together, to get youth involved, to serve vulnerable people, and to provide a safe environment for non-Christians to join in.”

Several months later, Eric’s friend Paul Vannett shared about an event he’d put together in Denver for an organization called Feed My Starving Children. The event, known as a MobilePack (which is a meal-packing event that can happen anywhere), brought people together to assemble food bags for vulnerable kids. “Paul encouraged me to check it out, so Brian and I joined the MobilePack in Denver with our teenage sons,” Eric shares.

“When we arrived, our sons disappeared into the crowd, and when they emerged at the end, they said it was the coolest thing they’d ever done. They wanted to do it again.” Eric and Brian walked away even more enthusiastic. “We knew God was telling us, ‘This is what I want you to do,’” Eric says.

Teenage boy in a hair net and sweatshirt is holding a stack of empty cardboard boxes that are towering over him.Diving in Head-First

Right away they learned that to put on a Mobile-Pack event, they’d have to motivate at least 500 people to volunteer and raise $25,000. “At first that goal seemed overwhelming,” Eric says, “but we trusted God to take this idea where he wanted. So we built a team of leaders from different churches and ran with it. We reached our goals really fast, and it kept going.” Soon, Christian music artist Nichole Nordeman offered to do a benefit concert for their weekend event, which they named “NoCo Is Slammin’ Famine.” That first year, they raised $65,000, organized 2,500 volunteers, and sent over 653,000 meals to hungry children.

God invited Eric and Brian to join his story, and God did something amazing. People from different churches, kids with special needs, families with children as young as 5, and people from various religious backgrounds participated. By 2017, more than 7,000 volunteers had participated, and many enthusiastically shared their experiences. Volunteer Keith Kemerer says that after participating in 2016, “My daughters scraped together $50 to donate to the 2017 event.”

Even one self-proclaimed atheist said, “This is the most impactful event I’ve ever participated in.” His experience compelled him to serve more and to learn more about God after serving alongside Christians.

Creating a Movement

Two ladies in hairnets are smiling under a sign that says "volunteers". They are filling up MannaPacks.

At the beginning of a MobilePack event, videos of kids impacted by FMSC over the years are shown. “Even though this was my second time doing it, I still got emotional hearing the stories,” volunteer Sammer Khalaf shares. “The fact that the food packages go directly to the people in need touches your heart beyond explanation.”

Sammer’s wife, Franny Khalaf, adds, “The videos were great because you got to see how much good basic nutrition can do for a child.”

After a packing-process explanation, volunteers head to their well-organized stations. Volunteer Rodney Stewart explains, “The tables were set and the product was ready for us to get to work.” Volunteer Lyndsay Gerwing explains the roles at tables. “My son helped scoop rice, vitamins, and soy into the individual bags, my co-workers weighed and sealed the bags, and I packed the MannaPacks for runners to collect and load onto pallets. My husband has a bad back, so he and my other son joined a seated team labeling bags.”

The Impact

Lyndsay shares the event’s impact on her family. “My kids take for granted that they’ll get three meals a day. It was good for them to see how glad the children would be to get food even though they’d eat the same food every day.”

A group of people ranging in age are on the scooping line for the MannaPacks. Some have pick cups of rice and some have small scoops of vitamins. All are wearing hairnets.

Volunteer Sara Curry points out the fun factor. “Anywhere you can serve the hungry while having an epic YMCA dance party with strangers is a home run.” Perhaps that fun community feel is what drives the average person to build around 259 meals in a two-hour shift.

After teams pack the bags and clean the stations, volunteers can pray over the MannaPacks. Volunteer Regina Cooper shares, “We had the opportunity not only to serve but also to pray for the food and for the people who would be blessed by it.”

In the three years the NoCo Is Slammin’ Famine event has existed, volunteers have packed over 1.7 million meals and donated over $250,000. In 2017, the team raised $112,000, enough to completely cover the cost of all the meals packed at the event. Volunteers don’t have to donate money to participate, but as volunteer Dawn Canny points out, “Someone needs to pay for the food and other supplies.”

Making an Impact

Two young girls smiling and hugging as they wear matching hairnets.

Meals travel to 70 countries around the world to areas where there’s no sustainable food source and go to children in danger of dying if they don’t get a meal. Organizations receiving MannaPacks are required to fully account for where the meals go. Many times the packed meals end up in the children’s hands within two or three weeks. Meals go to children like 2-year-old Jascent in Uganda, whose mother abandoned her when she was a week old. At age 2 she was barely 12 pounds, but by eating MannaPacks, Jascent gained almost nine pounds in three months.

After 3-year-old Alex’s father became sick and passed away, his mother couldn’t provide enough food for the family. An FMSC partner provided meals for Alex and other children in his Filipino village. “Now one year later, Alex and his family are doing well—they’re healthy and happy,” Jess Eischens wrote on FMSC.org.

The best part about FMSC? “They packed their billionth meal in 2014,” Eric says, “but they aren’t hoping to stick around. Their goal is to completely eliminate hunger.” With at least 6,200 kids dying every day from starvation, there’s still work to do. Eric and Brian are already getting ready for next year’s event. “We just want to do what Jesus is doing,” Eric says. “If he wants us to do a million meals, we’ll do it.”

What’s in a MannaPack?

Middle school boy wearing a hairnet shows off a completed MannaPack while smiling.

MannaPack Rice is developed based on academic research and years of food science for culturally sensitive nutrition. It contains textured soy, a high-quality source of protein, which is one of the key factors for growth and physical development, including brain development.

It’s also a source of micronutrients. It contains a pre-mix of the important vitamins and minerals that might be missing in the diets of people who live in areas with a lack of resources. Rice is also an important component.

Wondering about soy? Dr. Richard Dowdy, a retired professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Missouri, explained that the potential negative impact of soy is minimal when mixed at an appropriate ratio with a cereal-like substance such as rice.

“Soy protein is, by far, the best individual plant protein, nearly rivaling animal sources,”Dowdy says. “Combining rice and soy creates a product with excellent protein quality, a nutrient needed by starving children. Starving kids need food, and the MannaPack is a high-quality nutritional product. To deny starving kids of such a product would be a disgrace.”

Get Involved!

Little boy gives thumbs up and a smiling in his hairnet.

There are MobilePacks all over the United States and permanent packing locations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Arizona. The minimum age for participants is 5 years old. Check out FMSC.org or more details.

For more great ideas like this in every issue, subscribe today to Children’s Ministry Magazine!


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