James River students fight world hunger by packing 10,000 meals

By Amelia Heymann, The Virginia Gazette

As Amy Zrakovi recalls, a group of third-grade students at James River Elementary School approached her last year and said they wanted to end world hunger.

While brainstorming what to do, Zrakovi, the school’s International Baccalaureate coordinator, said a teacher mentioned she had worked with Rise Against Hunger to pack meals at another school. Everyone at James River liked the idea and got to work bringing that goal to life.

On Friday, James River third, fourth and fifth graders worked with people from Rise Against Hunger to help feed orphans around the world by packing 10,000 meals.

Zrakovi said the project was a good fit for James River, which as an IB school encourages students to take action.

Rise Against Hunger is an international organization that sends meals to those in need across the globe. Tony Cornicello, a community engagement coordinator for the group, said they believe they can end world hunger by 2030.

As a way to fund-raise, Amy Zrakovi said they let children paint a cinder block for $5. (Amelia Heymann)

But before the students at James River could pack a single meal, they needed to raise the money to buy the food that went into them.

One of the ways the school raised money was by selling cinder blocks through “adopt a block,” according to Zrakovi. For a minimum donation of $5, a child could buy a cinder block in the hallway to paint.

“Almost 300 blocks were painted,” Zrakovi said. “So we almost reached every child being able to paint one … first I just had the inner circle, then I had the outer circle and then I had to start going down the corridors.”

Other fundraising efforts included silent auctions for student artwork and online donations. Zrakovi said the school exceeded its fundraising goal of $2,944.08. The school also had a fundraising page online, where they raised $1,505 for a total of $3,627.93.

“I am completely amazed and excited to have so many children involved in such an effort,” Zrakovi said.

Each box packed contained roughly 35 meals. Students shook bags over bins before packing them to make sure they wouldn't break during shipping. (Amelia Heymann)

Getting to work

By 9 a.m. Friday, students started to show up to the gym eager to help. Some children were so excited, they ran to put on their gloves and red hair nets. But after taking a few minutes to clean their hands with sanitary wipes, students got down to work at one of three stations: filling bags, weighing and sealing them and packing them.

Bags were weighed to make sure there was enough food in each. If the bag didn't weigh enough, rice was added; if the bag weighed too much, some rice was taken out. Before packing the meals in a box, students shook them over bins to make sure they wouldn't break during shipping. Each box was packed with about 35 bags.

Cornicello said that when cooked, the meals — plastic bags filled with dried vegetables, soy, rice and a packet of vitamins — will help malnourished children improve their nutrition levels within a few weeks. The bags will be donated to orphanages across the world that request them.

Students from the third, fourth and fifth grade gathered in the gym to pack meals. 

Students were excited to pack the meals.

“I feel like this will impact in a way because we are saving lives,” said fifth grader Carlos Turrubiates. “Without this organization and all of the other hunger organizations, there would be people on the street starving right now, but we are helping to stop that.”

As the children left, they were told to throw out their gloves, but keep their hairnets on.

“I want you to keep your hairnets on so when people ask you what you did today, you can say you ended world hunger,” Cornicello said.

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