How many people does it take to make 6,000 meals?
About 160, working side by side at long tables propped up by apple juice cans for about three hours.
I know that because I saw it for myself on Saturday, March 30, at the warehouse of Aid for Friends in Northeast Philadelphia, just off the Roosevelt Boulevard. Dozens of members of Delaware Valley Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) divisions and their distaff LAOHs filled aluminum trays with slabs of meatloaf, scoops of mashed potatoes, mountains of peas, and puddles of creamy mac and cheese. The individual meals were frozen and will be distributed to the more than 2,000 needy shut-ins served every week by Aid for Friends, a 34-year-old organization that provides three meals a day and an empathetic listener to the homebound, mainly the frail elderly. And it’s all free.
Not for the AOHers, though. They collect money all year long–at parades, Irish events, fundraisers–to buy the food that they whip into meals once a year. And we’re talking enough to prepare more than 60,000 meals since the charity was founded 9 years ago by AOH Div. 87 member Bob Gessler, who was honored by the national organization this year for his efforts.
Though the program started in Philadelphia, the national AOH has adopted the Hibernian Hunger Project as an official AOH charity and it’s quickly spreading across the country from one division to the next.
It’s easy to see why. With Irish music blaring from a portable CD player, the volunteers, bustling in assembly lines, still took time to chat with their neighbors, laugh, and joke. It’s a little like a party–one of the ones that take place mostly in the kitchen.
“This is always a real feel-good kind of day,” said Donna Donnelly, Philadelphia County co-chairman of the organization, who was doing a lot of bustling herself. “But this was amazing. We had members, kids from local high schools, other volunteers. We’ve never been done this early.”
The meatloaf, however, was done before the side dishes ran out, so an executive decision had to be made: The last meals would be light mac and cheese suppers with lots of peas. Then the clean-up. It only took a few minutes to whip off the tablecloths, yank the apple juice cans that raised the folding tables to waist-high for better prep, and fold the tables and put them away. Around noon, the volunteers started to drift away, 6,000 trays of food stocked neatly in a walk-in freezer. It was done. Till next year.
You can learn more about the Hibernian Hunger Project here.
You can learn more about how to volunteer for Aid for Friends here.