Pack Away Hunger Executive Director Larry Moore prepares for the nonprofits largest Pack Friday event to date
Eliminate malnutrition. That’s the long-term goal for Pack Away Hunger’s Executive Director Larry Moore. While the nonprofit hasn’t been able to do that yet, they have created more than 2 million meals this year for families, both domestically and internationally.
“That’s a lot of people that in some cases would not have gotten any food, or if they’re getting a nutritious meal instead of chips and soda, that’s a huge win in my book, too,” Moore said.
Moore started Pack Away Hunger in 2010. Having grown up in the Kansas City area, he and his family were living in San Antonio, Texas when his company relocated its headquarters to Indianapolis in 2004. Moore and his wife, Mary, and three children, now adults, moved to the Center Grove area so Moore could continue his 30-year career in the promotional products industry.
Approximately 10 years ago, Moore’s boss asked him to check out a meal-packing event.
“It was a love at first sight discovery of this activity where people of all ages were creating these nutritious meal packs,” he said. “There was music playing. They were laughing and having fun. It was an eye opener: here’s something lots of generations of family can do together.”
Moore volunteered for awhile before deciding to leave his career to start his own organization, Pack Away Hunger, on the Southside of Indianapolis and work there on a full-time basis in May of 2010.
Pack Away Hunger operates out of 5230 Park Emerson Dr., Suite A, Indianapolis. Businesses, churches or individuals can sponsor events, packing Nutri-Plenty meals in an assembly-line fashion. Each meal costs 27 cents each. Locally, half of the meals are distributed to Midwest Food Bank and Gleaners. The other half is shipped internationally, to Haiti and Guatemala. This year, meals have also been sent to Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico as hurricane relief.
“I know without a doubt, I was really ignorant about hunger issues before I started doing this,” he said. “I was learning more and more. There are lots of demographic pockets that have a lot of challenges, in different parts of Indiana: senior citizens, kids, military veterans…
The sad news, we just read the poverty rate in Marion County has almost doubled in 15 years. Since the recession, almost 10 years ago now, unemployment has gone down, yet you talk to every food pantry in the city and need has gone up. They might say everything is wonderful and unemployment is low but if it’s not a decent full-time wage, they can’t feed their family. They’re looking for some extra help. Sometimes they say there’s too much month at the end of the paycheck. They need help for those days money has run out.”
Moore has received the opportunity to visit Haiti and Guatemala and see the impact of the meals there firsthand. He tries to visit one of these countries once a year if his schedule permits.
“What always comes to mind first, the kids are really happy, and they have nothing,” Moore said. “It’s a pleasant surprise that they don’t need material things to be happy. They’re just joyous when they play… We also talk to the teachers in these schools. They describe the kids before they started getting nutritious lunches, then fast forward a couple weeks and how much more energy they have, how much happier they are. They can stay awake and pay attention in class and learn something because their mind is’t constantly thinking of food. Talking to the teachers, we realize this group of kids would not be learning nearly as much or in some cases not at all because the families would tend to keep the kids at home certain times of year to help in the field. But if they know their kid will get a nutritious meal at school, then he’ll go.”
In 2016, Pack Away Hunger packed 2.3 million meals and Moore said they’ll pack roughly 2.2 million in 2017. Soon, they will sponsor an event that will pack 50,000 of those meals: Pack Friday.
“Before we started doing Pack Friday, it seems all we heard the Thanksgiving before that, is people talking about how, ‘oh I hate that Thanksgiving has become so commercial,’” Moore said. “Thanksgiving used to be, as the name implied, an opportunity for people to be together and express thanks. All it is now is fighting over a parking spot and scrambling to buy some electronic toy. We realized we can offer an alternative. We can open up the Friday after Thanksgiving, what retailers call Black Friday, and give people what they’re asking for, give them an opportunity to help other people.”
This year, the 5th annual Pack Friday is Nov. 24, with three shifts currently available. As shifts fill up, Pack Away Hunger will consider adding more. The event has become so popular, they no longer have the space at their facility. This will be the first year hosting it at La Quinta Inn, 5120 Victory Dr., Indianapolis, just off of I-465 and Emerson Avenue. There is no fee to join this event. Pack Away Hunger will ask for donations. Those interested can register up until the day of at packawayhunger.org.
“People have been over-the-top generous and helpful,” Moore said.