"The goal is to get those packages of food out in the tummies of kids who need them." - Karen Rathke, president of Heartland United Way
Every year volunteering increases during the holiday season, and this year one project kicked off the holiday volunteering season with 100,000 mac and cheese dinners.
Hundreds of people showed up at the Fonner Park Concourse on Sunday to volunteer at Heartland United Way's Macaroni Project. Organizers said it's designed to relieve the burden of food costs for families in need.
"The goal is to get those packages of food out in the tummies of kids who need them," said Karen Rathke, president of Heartland United Way. "Over 50% of the kids here in Grand Island are on free and reduced school lunches, so that just means our families are pretty stretched. So the next meal may not be a guarantee, they don't know when it might be coming or where it might be coming from. So this really helps address that need."
Area charities like the Salvation Army have said that they've hit record breaking need for food this season. It's a need some residents believe can be a silent one.
"I think it is not as noticeable for people on the street, but when you're involved with different agencies, you sort of become aware that there really is a need, particularly through the schools, weekends when kids don't have home-cooked meals," said volunteer Bruce Smith.
Scooping, weighing, sealing, and packing, volunteers worked in assembly lines to prepare the ready-to-cook meals.
And it's not just adults volunteering. Dozens of kids helped out too, preparing dinners that may benefit someone they know. 13-year-old Jeremiah Coucah and his friends were among the helpers. Coucah said he thought volunteering would also encourage other fellow students to do so.
"It feels really good because it probably will get them energetic and wanting to do this too," he said.
Many families volunteered together on Sunday, noting that volunteerism is an inter-generational activity.