US & World

Salvation Army organizes an assembly-line relief effort for Haiti

Students from the Westerly School of Long Beach volunteer on an assembly line at the Salvation Army warehouse in Bell.
Students from the Westerly School of Long Beach volunteer on an assembly line at the Salvation Army warehouse in Bell.
Brian Watt/KPCC

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The Salvation Army and the global hunger nonprofit Numana have organized a two-day effort to pack a million meals for the people of Haiti.

The Salvation Army set up 20 long tables inside its warehouse in the city of Bell. Hundreds of volunteers on 4-hour shifts turned each table into an efficient assembly line. They filled small plastic bags with a mixture of rice, soy protein, freeze-dried vegetables and vitamin powder. They sealed the bags and put them into boxes. Each box contains 264 meals. So when a table filled one up, its volunteers celebrated.

Rick McNary enjoyed hearing the cheers. He founded Numana eight years ago after he met a starving 5-year-old girl in Nicaragua. The Kansas-based nonprofit works to relieve global hunger, raising the money to buy the food and offering concerned people ways to help.

"We know people care when they see the starving people on television," McNary said. "They see the devastation in Haiti, and we care. We’re made to care. And yet the only option that most people have had is to write a check."

McNary said he knows this event is tailor-made for Americans looking for short-term volunteer work that’s fun and festive. A gong even sounds on the warehouse floor to mark the moment when the crews have packed another 5,000 boxes.

In the last couple of weeks the Salvation Army issued the call for volunteers through churches, social service groups and over the Internet. The summons reached Juany Argueta of Montebello at the accounting firm where she works as an executive assistant. The earthquake hit Haiti 2 months ago, and even if the disaster has moved off the front pages of newspapers, Argueta knows it’s still there.

“I still think about it, because we can not forget that these people are always in need," she said. "I still have family back in El Salvador, and I remember when they went through the earthquake there, too. So, it hit home.”

The Salvation Army has maintained a presence in Haiti for the last 60 years. Since the January earthquake, it’s turned its facilities there into emergency relief centers, and served more than 5 million meals.

Salvation Army Major Evelyn Chavez returned recently from a one-month trip to Haiti and said the country's challenges will continue.

"Their monsoon season is just about to start and that’s gonna bring another disaster in itself," she said. "So even as the rebuilding goes, until things can be established and businesses start again, feeding the people and letting them be able to be nourished and strong is what’s going to help them be able to re-establish and continue."