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Local Feed My Starving Children recruits volunteers to fill MannaPacks

If it weren’t for an eight-year-old girl’s birthday party, Charles Brondos might never have heard of Feed My Starving Children. 

Charles Brondos shows a Manna Pack.

In 2008, the retired Spokane neurologist and his wife, Virginia, were traveling in Illinois, where he grew up in West Frankfort, when friends told them that their granddaughter decided to forego a traditional birthday and instead invite friends to help her pack meals at the Feed My Starving Children packing center in Aurora, Ill. 

Inspired by her generosity, Charles decided to learn about the organization that supplies food for malnourished children worldwide.

“I learned it not only had fixed packing sites, but also we could bring a ‘MobilePack’ to Spokane,” he said. 

A MobilePack is an operation with multiple packing stations, where teams of volunteers come together to pack MannaPacks, that are sealed and boxed for shipment where they are needed.

MannaPacks are “culturally neutral.” The original recipe is vitamin-packed flavoring, dried vegetables, soy protein and rice.  A baby food recipe for children seven to 12 months contains vitamin packed sweet potato flavoring, potato granules and soy flour.  A pack for people suffering diarrhea, a leading killer, includes a sweet potato flavored vitamin mix to help in re-hydration, potato granules and soy flour.

A tractor trailer arrives at the MobilePack site the day prior to the packing event, loaded to replicate a fixed packing site, including raw food ingredients in bulk. 

“Feed My Starving Children also sends trained staff members to assist with setup and the event itself, and to ensure standards are maintained,” Charles said.

With a leadership team of friends and community volunteers, Charles first applied to bring a MobilePack event to Spokane in February, 2015. 

“There was a date available in mid-August that year. We took it knowing our time to organize and fundraise would be short,” he said.  

The team’s first year goal was to organize 600 volunteers to pack 100,000 meals. They exceeded the goal by about 100 volunteers and 8,000 meals. 

A similar group Charles led staged another MobilePack event in 2016 and 700 volunteers packed more than 124,000 meals. 

Many lessons were learned at the initial event, including about the quantity of cookies needed to feed the volunteers.  The hospitality team baked more than 1,900 cookies to serve to the volunteers. 

Charles and his wife recently traveled to Minneapolis for a Feed My Starving Children Host Summit, where they learned the national organization revised its 2017 meal goal upward from 305 to 315 million meals to cover the increasing global need.

“It was inspiring to be among other hosts to share ideas and learn about the national organization,” he said.

Charles’ team is staging another Mobile Pack event this fall and has set a goal of packing more than 200,000 meals, up from the original goal of 130,000. 

“The need is especially great this year because of war and starvation in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria,” Charles said. “More than 20,000 children face imminent starvation in those areas, so the national organization challenged us to increase our goal.”

This year’s Inland NW MobilePack event will be at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 3606 S. Old Shaver Rd, Spokane Valley on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29 and 30.  It will require 900 volunteers. 

There are two packing sessions on Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m., and three shifts on Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. and concluding at 4:30 p.m. 

Charles said church youth groups are encouraged to attend Friday evening sessions.

Besides organizing logistics of the event, the local leadership team raises funds to purchase the number of meals packed. 

“Each MannaPack costs 22 cents to make,” he said, “so we need to raise about $45,000 to cover this year’s costs.” 

The leadership team has been raising funds with churches, businesses and prior-year donors.

“We didn’t know what to expect in terms of fundraising the first year,” he said, “but the national leadership assured us fundraising would not be a problem and it wasn’t.  I’m confident the need will be met this year, too.”

Charles describes participating in a Feed My Starving Children MobilePack event as “two-hour mission trip without much travel required.” 

He said packing sessions are “boisterous,” and teams are encouraged to call out each time a case of meals is packed. 

“Sessions typically start quietly as teams build processes,” he said, “but excitement builds as they go along and volunteers become more vocal by the end of the sessions.  It’s a joy to witness.”

Charles, who grew up attending a Slovak Lutheran Church with his family, studied at Valparaiso University (where he met his wife), Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois Medical School in Chicago. 

After a year internship in Michigan, he was an Army doctor in Korea for a year, accepted even though he had polio when he was eight-months old. In Korea, he saw the hardship many people endure in their daily lives.

After a neurology residency at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, he, his wife and two children, moved to Spokane where he was in private practice from 1974 until retiring in 2007.

In addition to Feed My Starving Children, Charles is a weekly volunteer doing client intake at Mission Community Outreach Center, is a member of Pages of Harmony and is in the Stephen Ministry at his church, Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church.

Charles, who was a church coordinator for about eight years with Family Promise, formerly known as Interfaith Hospitality Network, caring for homeless families within the church on a rotating 12-week basis.  

“We cared for a family for a week at the church, providing meals and support,” he said. 

Families slept overnight in the church with members and returned to a day center in the morning.  Charles enjoyed talking with families and encouraging them. 

“We prayed with them for their needs to be met and for them to be restored to a home,” he said. 

Charles would like to see Feed My Starving Children become an annual event and he hopes to fill an entire semi-trailer next year. 

“That would mean we would pack 272,000 meals on 35 pallets,” he said, “which would require more packing shifts, more volunteers and a larger space to stage the event.” 

He admitted he initially considered that a daunting goal until he was informed that several churches routinely pack more than a million meals at their events.

“Registration is open now,” he said, “and we already have interest from numerous church groups, and we expect a group of 20 people from Fairchild AFB, too.” 

Charles said children as young as five years old can participate. 

“We’ve had entire stations filled by a single family,” he said.

He plans to continue to lead the planning team as long as he is able because of Jesus’ call in Matthew’s Gospel to feed the hungry. 

“We are called to serve the world and this is one way of doing it, he said.  “We are feeding God’s children in body and spirit.

“Without food children can’t learn,” Charles said.  “With this food, healthy children at least have a chance in life.”

For information, call 994-3016, visit registration page for event or find on Facebook.

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