ASHTABULA — More than 225 volunteers arrived at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church Community Center Friday morning to package 300,000 meals in two hours.

The food will be distributed to the county’s 19 food pantries to feed hungry people in the area.

“Think of the people you are going to bless,” said former state Rep. John Patterson of Jefferson. “You are making a difference.”

Patterson said the event “brings together the community” to package food to fight local hunger. 

“We are blessing others with our work today,” he said. “But it’s the people here that are going to be even more blessed.”

The healthy meals consisted of oatmeal bars because “cereal is the hardest food to get for food pantries,” said Barbara Klingensmith, executive director of the Country Neighbor Program. Each meal costs 25 cents, she said.

The meal packing event, called Feed the Hope, started four years ago to celebrate the positive aspects of Ashtabula County. 

Klingensmith said she is impressed with the “incredible” turnout every year. 

Volunteers come from just about every group, school, club, business or non-profit organization throughout the county, including the Robert S. Morrison Foundation, University Hospitals, Ashtabula County Medical Center, Circle K, Ashtabula Foundation, A-Tech, United Way, and many more.

The Rev. Raymond Thomas, pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish, allowed the group to hold the event at the community center for free. And, he’s offered the building for next year’s Feed the Hope, as well, said Julius Petro, a member of the parish.

“It’s a wonderful event,” he said. “Everyone is happy to volunteer.”

Klingensmith said she had local students at the community center yesterday to help set up.

“They begged us to let them pack boxes today,” she said. “But we were already maxed out.”

Volunteers packed six meals in a bag, with seven bags per box — for a total of 47 meals per box. Volunteers broke down the meals and packaged them during Friday’s event. Teams of 10 volunteers formed an assembly line.

Patterson, who learned about the program several years ago after he and his wife, Nancy, attended a national leadership conference and participated in an assembly line where they packed meals for children. After participating in the leadership conference’s food packaging event, Patterson contacted Klingensmith and a committee was formed to bring the meal packaging program to Ashtabula County.

“We are so so blessed,” Klingensmith said Friday as hundreds of hands worked as fast as they could packaging the food. “It really is wonderful.”

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