Guardian Life Insurance employees package thousands of meals for those in need

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PHOTO GALLERY | Guardian Life prepares meals for Feeding Children Everywhere

PITTSFIELD — Guardian Life Insurance employees had a goal: produce 20,000 meals for children and adults in need.

An efficient packaging process, many hands and one hour later, that goal was met.

About 80 volunteers of the company prepared meals of red lentil jambalaya, filling and packaging over 3,000 bags of ingredients.

Volunteers worked to support Feeding Children Everywhere, a nationwide program that relies on volunteers to help fulfill its goal of feeding hungry children and adults.

"We need the people, the people to package, we need the space to package, [and] we need the tables to package on," said Rachel Wilson, event leader from the Feeding Children Everywhere program.

Volunteers competed in speedy packaging with Guardian Life Insurance employees in two other locations in Pennsylvania and New York.

At long tables forming assembly lines, volunteers ladled out the component ingredients — lentils, rice, dehydrated vegetables and pink Himalayan salt — into a yellow funnel with a bag secured underneath it by other volunteers. Two others weighed the bags — each has to be between 320 and 330 grams.

If the bag was too light, volunteers would add lentils.

"That's where the substance of the meal is," said Danielle Brennan, a claims consultant with Guardian and a lead volunteer.

The meals are designed to feed a wide variety of people possible nutritiously. Each is free of common allergens — dairy, gluten, nuts and soy — with 11 grams of fiber and 15 grams of protein.

The Himalayan salt in particular has 84 trace minerals that many food-insecure people commonly lack, Wilson said.

Six meals fit easily into the small bags, as the ingredients greatly expand when cooked, she said.

"I always tell people, think about Ramen noodles ... how those expand," she said.

The boxes of food will be picked up by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts for distribution to its regular locations in Berkshire County and the Pioneer Valley.

"I wish that we could ship to other countries, but it's nice to be able to give back to Massachusetts," Brennan said. "I'm glad to be doing this for Western Mass. It just makes you feel fulfilled, like you're doing something positive."

Some volunteers from the Holyoke branch and some who worked from home even came out to help, she said.

"I left out the hairnet [requirement] when they signed up," she said. "They were all pretty good about it."

Brennan recruited volunteers to be "table captains" to help others learn the various tasks at each table.

"We had a great turnout," she said.

Jay Goyette, facilities manager at Guardian's Pittsfield branch, was assigned to help set up the room for the volunteers. He decided to stay and volunteer himself.

"We actually had to break down the whole room from a big meeting," he said.

Spilled lentils littered the floor around a large bin at Goyette's workstation.

Other spills were the order of the day, but Wilson told volunteers not to worry.

"It's fun to volunteer and be with your co-workers," Goyette said. "It's a great cause."

Once all was in order, bags were sealed and packed into boxes, each fitting 48 bags containing six servings of food.

By about 2:45 p.m., 21 boxes formed a pyramid at the back of the room. 12 others were stacked on a nearby wooden pallet.

Together they contained over 9,000 meals.

Volunteers continued to carry full boxes down the aisles and stack them on the pallet as 3 p.m. drew nearer.

The first table finished just after 3 p.m., packing, sealing and stacking its last box.

Wilson left the volunteers with a parting gift: "The hairnets are yours to keep," she said.

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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