Massive bags holding thousands of pounds of rice, dried vegetables, and other nonperishable foods are wheeled in. The sticky screech of a tape gun rips through the air as cardboard boxes are reinforced and lined up. Volunteers drag rectangular tables into uniform rows to become assembly lines where 80,000 meals will be packed in one day.
This is how Meals from the Heartland feeds malnourished people in Iowa and around the world. Volunteers pack raw ingredients for meals to be sent overseas and traditional meals to be distributed to people in the U.S. Wells Fargo helps by providing volunteers at food-packing events and grants to sustain the organization.
Steve Carlson has served on the nonprofit’s board for four years, and he still gets choked up by its mission. “You connect with the vision of starving children, and realize this might be the only meal they get in a day, and it kind of gets you,” said Carlson, a member of Wells Fargo’s Stakeholder Relations team in Des Moines, Iowa. “It’s so easy to do, but it makes such a big impact.”
Meals from the Heartland started in 2007 as a church project to package 1 million meals during Lent. So many people were inspired by its heart and potential that the project became a nonprofit that today provides more than 20 million meals annually to children in the U.S. and around the globe.
“Our mission is really two-fold. One, we want to feed people. Second, we want people to have a heart change, to come in and serve, to give back,” said Greg DeHaai, Meals From the Heartland’s director of operations.
“I can eat wherever I want because I have the means to do it,” said Will Figueroa, a member of Wells Fargo’s Risk Management team and a regular volunteer with Meals from the Heartland. “There are people out there that don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and that’s why I love Meals from the Heartland. It’s just a great organization to battle world hunger.”
The organization distributes about 4 million meals to the hungry in Iowa and the Midwest. The other 18 million are shipped overseas and delivered to schools and other institutions that regulate their distribution.
“Our goal is to raise these kids and make that area of the world self-sufficient so that we can go to the next area that is not getting fed, start over, and get those communities fed, get them in school, get them to learn a new trade, a new way of living,” said DeHaai. “We want that community to understand that the world is here to help and that we want to do whatever we can do to change these kids’ lives.”
The Des Moines Area Religious Council, a warehouse of a network of 14 regional food pantries, is a beneficiary of Meals from the Heartland. “It is really important for these families to have access to nutritious foods,” said Rebecca Whitlow, DMARC’s food pantry network director, “and Meals from the Heartland is an easy way for us to provide a nutritious meal to families.”
Rebecca Young, a member of Wells Fargo’s Audit team, also serves on Meals from the Heartland’s board. In addition to providing the organization strategic council, she and Carlson regularly connect Wells Fargo team members with volunteer opportunities at meal-packing events like the one that transformed the company’s downtown Des Moines headquarters lunchroom into a mobile pack site during the company’s Dedicated Day of Service in September.
“I believe this is the organization that we invest the most volunteer hours in, every year, than any other organization in central Iowa,” said Carlson. “They have the annual hunger fight, where thousands of people gather at the convention center and package 4 million meals in a weekend; they have a packaging center, where our team members are there all the time as work groups; and then there are mobile packs like this — and we love to be involved in all those realms.”
Wells Fargo has also provided more than $250,000 in philanthropic support to Meals from the Heartland since 2008.
“Steve has been an invaluable asset to our board, both in his experience in the community and also with his wisdom of what we can do to make things better. His ability to rally the Wells Fargo troops whenever we need help is just invaluable,” said DeHaai. “We couldn’t do what we do without the Wells Fargo volunteers.”