Local company plans meal packing event

Chad Frey
In April, Hutton Construction of McPherson spent several days paying employees to pack meals for The Outreach Program, a charity that distributes meals to those suffering from food insecurity, in a first-of-its-kind program during the COVID-19 pandemic. Next month, Kansas Electric of Newton will follow suit -- with a goal of packing 500,000 meals.

Tim Sweigart at Kansas Electric has a group of employees who want to “go big or go home,” and they want to keep working every day.

The result of that combination is a community event in November with a big goal — packaging 500,000 meals for the needy.

“We are going to shutdown our electrical contracting business in the afternoon for a whole week,” Sweigart said. “We will have 70 tables set up to do this. ... My guys wanted to go big. They wanted to do a million, that is their spirit. I love that. I said let’s be realistic and do a half a million, that is still big and a lot of meals.”

Even cutting that goal down by half, Kansas Electric will need help from the community to reach the goal.

To that end, the company has turned to SignUpGenius as it searches for volunteers to help — and they know COVID-19 is a concern.

The company is seeking volunteers in two-hour shifts, planning to package meals form 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 7, 1 to 9 p.m. Nov. 9-13 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 14. Any size group is welcome, with a maximum of 60 per shift. Children 10 and over are also welcome.

To sign up, visit https://tinyurl.com/y3jygwu3 or email tim@kansaselectric.com. For groups over 15, contact Sweigart directly at 316-215-1316.

They will employ a model created by Hutton Construction of McPherson earlier this year. That company dedicated employees and their families to a similar event to package meals for an organization called The Outreach Program.

In April, Hutton was able to package between 3,000 and 3,500 meals each day under COVID-19 social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders issued by the governor.

Sweigart said Kansas Electric is wanting to go bigger at its facility at 1420 N.W. 36th St., and is seeking the people now to make that happen.

“We have 25% of the volunteers that we have so far. We need to get the word out,” Sweigart said. “We are trying to get youth groups and business groups as well as individuals. Groups of more than 15, if they call us direct.”

Each meal packaged can feed six people — and, Sweigart said, keep his staff working during a slow period.

“We have been growing like crazy the last 10 years. This year with COVID, we hit a soft spot in our schedule. I decided to put them to work packaging meals for food banks,” Sweigart said.

Founded in 2003, The Outreach Program was started by Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton of Union, Iowa. The program packages meals for use worldwide. Outreach has helped to package more than 550 million meals that have been distributed across the United States and around the world.

Right now the program is focusing on the United States in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“They are really short of meals for people all over,” Sweigert said. “They asked if we would host a public event to pack meals.”

The nutrient-dense, shelf-stable, easy-to-prepare meals are in high demand in Kansas and across the U.S. by food banks and senior-service agencies that serve a vulnerable elderly population.

“In our discussions with local, state and national agencies, they have alerted us to their need and growing concern to provide nutritious food for the elderly,” said Floyd Hammer, founder of The Outreach Program. “Agencies and charities who serve seniors are requesting our food. Although, our model has always been to package these meals with large groups of volunteers at meal packaging events, the limit of 10 people and social distancing has brought new challenges and opportunities.”

The pantry pack contains serve bags of meals, including two cinnamon apple oatmeals; two macaroni and cheese meals; two rice and bean meals; and one pasta with tomato basil sauce meal. For donors who want to sponsor a package, each package costs $11.95 at outreachprogram.org.