Volunteers package food for children in Haiti

More than 1,000 people gathered in El Dorado on Wednesday to package more than 200,000 meals for starving schoolchildren in Haiti.

The volunteers, organized in assembly lines at long, white tables, erupted in cheers each time another box was filled. In the background, lively Haitian music played, energizing the volunteers to keep packing casserole ingredients.

The casseroles consisted of ingredients such as rice, pinto beans and chicken-flavored vitamin powder. Numana staffers said it takes just five minutes for these dried mixtures to come to life as casseroles.

Wendy Koontz, an El Dorado resident, said she and her family volunteered at a similar Numana event last year and enjoyed it so much they had to come again.

"It's fun to be able to do something hands-on to feed the starving," Koontz said. "They give people the opportunity to not only donate their money but also their time to really make a difference."

Rick McNary, founder of Numana, said the opportunity to package food helps not only the hungry but also the volunteers.

"The thing that we have found so wonderful is that it gives people — the common person — an opportunity to actually impact global hunger in a practical, tactile way. They can actually touch the food that's going to be feeding starving people," McNary said.

Numana Inc. of Wichita has gained national attention since its response to the Haitian earthquake last January.

McNary said the organization had a container of food ready to ship to Haiti before the earthquake hit. The executive director of the Salvation Army in Washington, D.C., called McNary and asked if he could ship the food out right away. The next morning, the Salvation Army had Numana's meals parachuted into Haiti.

"We were named Numana off the Old Testament story of manna falling from heaven, and my wife pointed out that Numana actually fell from the skies to starving people. It's a great story," McNary said.

His son Caleb McNary, the organization's media director, said Numana does not categorize itself as a faith-based organization.

"It's a public charity, and we really did that because we want to not limit ourselves to just working with churches," he said. "We want to work with anybody that wants to work with us."