WEST POINT -- It was a typical morning for students at West Point Junior High, but in one classroom, student body officers and cheerleaders were learning that not everyone in the world their age gets to attend school, because their days are spent working and helping their families acquire food.
Nearly 50 students spent two hours Thursday packaging 10,200 meals for the Stop Hunger Now organization, an international hunger relief agency. Salt Lake Program Director Charlene Mukarakate told students how their meals that are sent to 65 countries around the world are generally coordinated through the schools, which then becomes an incentive for families to send their kids to school. The longer students can go to school, the more their income increases when they finish school, according to Mukarakate.
Usually during December, the 1,250 students at West Point Junior High raise money for Sub for Santa in the community, but this year students wanted to do something different and raised $2,500 through fundraising efforts for the meals. The Stop Hunger Now meals consist of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring packet of essential vitamins and minerals. Each meal has a two-year shelf life and is packaged to transport easily.
"We wanted to affect more people than just our community, especially with what's happened recently in the Philippines, so we wanted to help people in other countries," said ninth-grade student body officer Hagen Larsen. "I like that this food really coordinates with their schooling and families send their kids to school knowing they will be fed. We take so many things for granted, complaining about our school food not being good enough, when there are kids out there in other countries who are not eating every day."
The students contacted Stop Hunger Now and learned the minimum number of meals they had to purchase was 10,000, so they set to work raising the money, which didn't end up being too difficult for the students.
"At first I thought, $2,500 is a lot of money, but then after we started doing fundraisers, we had it in the bag," said ninth-grade student body officer Anne Petersen.
Once the money was raised, officers and cheerleaders packaged all of the meals. "We smelled liked soy and dried vegetables, but it was fun for us all to bond and put us in a good mood helping others," said Camry Francis, a ninth-grade student body officer.
For Principal Jed Johansen, it was the best year of giving he's seen since he started at the school five years ago.
"Just being able to provide food for people who are hungry, essential for sustaining life, was a good thing for our students," said Johansen. "A big part of education is teaching students how to help others who are less fortunate, and we were able to do that here."
Student body officer advisor Jared Fawson said the experience will have an impact on the students.
"This was a really neat opportunity for them to be a part of affecting education in other parts of the world, because a lot of the times they are in the hunter and gatherer mode, spending their whole day getting food, so this hits on a lot of levels by feeding and schooling others," said Fawson. "This is the real way to fight poverty."
Stop Hunger Now just recently opened an office in Salt Lake City. "We're trying to expand our program because we want everyone to have the opportunity to help us have an impact on our global society and help end hunger," said Mukarakate.
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