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Emma Kittinger, 7, passed a meal packet bound for Nicaragua along an assembly line Saturday at Highland Park Community Church. She joined her parents at a table of volunteers who poured rice, soy, dried vegetables and a vitamin pack into each meal packet and passed them along to be weighed, sealed and packed in boxes.

Emma’s job was to pass the packets to the person sealing them.

“I’m a professional, even though it’s my first time.”

More than 1,000 church and community volunteers of all ages worked in shifts Saturday for the annual Feed Nicaragua, a local effort to pack food and supplies for families in Nicaragua.

This is the ninth Feed Nicaragua event the church hosts annually through the NiCE Foundation (Nicaragua Christian Education Foundation) of Highland, Illinois to address hunger and educational needs. On Saturday, the volunteers would cheer for the 2 millionth meal packed in Casper. Each packet feeds six people and provides much-needed protein and vitamins to combat malnutrition. The national organization ships and distributes the food, along with clothing and school supplies to those most in need in Nicaragua, co-chair of the local effort Roger Fuhrman said.

“So they know exactly who’s getting it, and who’s in greatest need and it’s going there.”

Emma started off a little nervous for her first time as a food packing volunteer.

“But I got more excited. Because I get to help people that are starving.”

Her family volunteered to teach her Emma the importance and joy of helping others, her father Dan said.

“We wanted to serve together as a family and she’s at an old enough age to be able to do that.”

A Highland Park community group of mainly retirees worked at another table, where Joni Bunce placed packets on a counting grid and packed 36 in each box.

“This is amazing. I mean, if we can make an impact in Casper, Wyoming, to go around the world. I just think people working together, it’s amazing what you can do.”

Casper College student and Highland Park member T.K.O. Sisneros rapidly taped an “X” pattern atop each filled box as volunteers hauled them to and from his station. He came up with that system after the first time he volunteered five years ago. Between shifts, he hauled pallets of boxes outside the church.

“I get to help people and I get to have fun in the process too.”

Ryan Sorensen helped his Natrona County High School football teammates pour 50-pound bags of rice and soy into tubs and keep each table stocked. He didn’t mind showing up at 7:30 a.m. after the team returned from a game at 2 a.m.

“It’s good. Everyone in the room — it’s a great energy in here. Everyone wants to be here, they’re willing to help out.”

Saturday was the final day for the food packing effort, which has grown into a four-day community affair involving the Casper Rotary Club, church youth groups and Casper Re-entry Center.

Volunteers in 90-minute shifts on Saturday included Highland Park members, other churches around Wyoming, community organizations, school groups and even representatives from the NiCE Foundation, Fuhrman said. Crews on Saturday would pack 184,000 meals toward the 244,000 goal. The Feed Nicaragua effort also will send about 8,000-10,000 pounds of school supplies, clothing and household supplies. With Nicaragua’s economic crisis, the need has grown critical, Fuhrman told each shift of volunteers.

Highland Park Community Church GO Pastor for missions and outreach Darren Adwalpalker is part of the organizing team for Feed Nicaragua.

“The idea that there’s global hunger can be really removed from our everyday reality so doing something real practical like this makes it real, where it’s like, this rice that I’m holding is going to feed a child,” he said. “A lot of times it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the needs around the world and think, ‘What can I do?’ So coming together and doing something like this shows that we can actually make a difference.”

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Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @erconner

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