Have you ever been at a point in your life when you were this happy to have someone bring you food and water? When you didn’t have electricity, internet, TV, cell service, clean drinking water or your next meal planned? This woman was in that situation and that is why she was so grateful for the meals and water provided by Meals from the Heartland and Convoy of Hope. So far this year we have sent 10.5 million meals, packed by Iowans, to help aid disaster victims like this lady in Puerto Rico.
In November, I was fortunate enough to go to Puerto Rico for two weeks to assist Convoy of Hope, our mission partner, with the disaster relief effort in Puerto Rico. I was immediately taken aback by the destruction on the island which has a population of almost 3.5 million people and is only 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. Buildings were destroyed, electrical poles and lines were in the streets, trees without leaves and branches, garbage and ruined belongings piled up along the road, street lights and stop lights not working. But, I also met some of the most upbeat and resolute citizens that were determined to get help to everyone who needed it and make their island look like it did before it was assaulted by Hurricane Maria. They kept telling me that I had to come back to see how beautiful their island is once it is back to normal.
My days were spent loading up cars, SUVs, pickups, vans, and box trucks with meal kits and cases of water for schools, churches, and communities. One school drove seven vehicles three hours each way just for the opportunity to bring back food and water for their families. We worked from sun up to sun down in a warehouse that had been abandoned for 20 years and had no electricity to load vehicle after vehicle that arrived needing supplies for their communities. Every single person that received our meals and water were so appreciative of the blessing they were receiving. They wanted to hug us (which was a little gross for them because every day my shirt was completely sweat soaked by 7:30 AM!), shake our hands, pray for us, and pat us on the back for what we were doing for the people on their island. I met Americans from Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Atlanta, St. Louis, and New York City that were loading up vans and trucks and taking the meals and water to communities and areas that either couldn’t make it to the warehouse or areas that nobody wanted to venture into because of drugs and crime.
Puerto Ricans kept asking me where I was from and how many people worked at Meals from the Heartland. Most of the time I had to explain to them where Iowa was and they were amazed when I told them around 75,000 people “worked” at Meals from the Heartland. In 2017 we will package close to 23 million meals with 10.5 million of those meals going to disaster relief. Our ten full time employees are not the ones to pat on the back for that accomplishment — our packagers, those from Okoboji to Oelwein, from Cedar Rapids to Creston, from Pella to Pocahontas, and for all of those in Central Iowa that come to our packaging center seven times, five days a week, are the ones to thank. I wish I could have bottled up the gratitude I felt from those receiving our meals and shared it with everyone who has helped make a difference in the world around us.
Not everyone can go on a mission or disaster relief trip but anyone can donate to our cause by giving their time and supporting our mission financially. The number of volunteers and the meal output we have seen this fall has been unbelievable. Iowans once again have risen up to help those in need. The problem with packaging this many meals for relief assistance is we did not have this amount in our budget. In case you didn’t know, we have to purchase all of the items needed to package meals and rely only on donations from individuals, schools, businesses, and churches to pay for these materials. To help others this fall, we went well past our budget and are in need of financial assistance. If you have the ability, please consider donating not only your time but also financially to help support our mission, your mission, to make a difference in the world around us. Every dollar helps so don’t feel that your donation isn’t big enough, remember, ten dollars will provide meals for 60 people!
I’ve been asked many times if I would go back to Puerto Rico again and my reply has been “Absolutely, without a doubt!” It is so great to see how Iowans are making a difference, not only on that island, but all around the world.