A thousand Mainers of all ages assembled 200,000 meals Sunday for malnourished children.

During three two-hours shifts at Deering High School in Portland, the volunteers measured out 21 tons of soy, rice, dried vegetables and vitamins, sealed them in plastic bags and packed them up in boxes for shipment to starving children throughout the world. The effort was organized by Million Meals Maine, a nonprofit started last year by eight people who wanted to combat world hunger.

“We wanted to empower people and show that in a short amount of time they can really make a difference,” said Charity Hirst, one of the organizers.

Last year the group signed up 500 volunteers, who packed more than 108,000 meals for children in Haiti. The meals were shipped by Feed My Starving Children, an international Christian nonprofit that supplies food to 70 countries.

This year, supported by $44,000 in donations, Million Meals Maine aimed to double that effort. Hirst said she and other members of her group do not know where the 200,000 meals are headed yet.

The vegetarian meals cost 22 cents each to make and have been formulated to quickly reverse and prevent malnutrition. Hirst said they taste a little bit like dried ramen noodles but are not especially tailored for American tastes.

All of the equipment, from meal pack assembly stations to packing boxes, arrived Saturday in a tractor-trailer, which was parked outside the high school Sunday, ready to haul away the completed meals.

Volunteers were recruited from churches, businesses, schools and other groups in southern Maine.

“It’s a well-oiled machine,” Hirst said as the first shift went to work. Hundreds of helpers wearing hair nets organized themselves into assembly teams and within minutes were cranking out meal packs as rock ‘n’ roll music played in the background.

Each time a team filled a packing box with meal packs, its members yelled out a cheer to let the warehouse crew know they needed a pickup.

“This is total teamwork,” said Zach Taylor of Portland, who was with a group of seven alumni of the Greater Portland Christian School.

Anthony O’Donnell, 12, and his friend Trey Roberts, 11, both students at Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland, said the event was an easy way to do good for the world.

“Our really lovely homeroom teacher, Ms. Foster, told us about this,” said Anthony.

Ralph Rogers of Cumberland said he heard about the event through friends.

“They believe God can still feed people. God is not dead,” Rogers said.

Diane Miller of Portland, there with a large group of family members and friends, said she couldn’t help but get a little competitive as her team managed to fill up its first box of meals before any others.

“Our prize is the fun of doing this,” Miller said.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: bquimby

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