PLAINS TWP. — The music was loud, everybody was wearing blue hair nets and boxes of food were being filled at a furious pace.
This was the scene at the Mohegan Sun Pocono Casino conference center Friday as 340 associates of Metz Culinary Management were preparing 75,000 meals for needy children and families in the Wilkes Barre/Scranton area.
The event was part of the Dallas-based Metz’s annual two-day management conference, attended by managers and general managers from Metz restaurants and food operations in 20 states.
The meals — packages of red lentil jambalaya — were put together at the impressive rate of 1,250 per minute in a flurry of high-energy activity by the Metz “Hunger Heroes.”
The meals were to be distributed by the Commission on Economic Opportunity to needy families in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.
One of the Metz associates, Talene Derbavian, a 29-year-old clinical nutritionist at the Crozer Chester Medical Center in Delaware County, was dancing to the music as she filled containers with lentils.
“This is awesome — we’re having a great time helping the community and working together,” she said. “And what better way to spend time together than by helping people in need.”
Jeff Metz, president and CEO, was part of one team, along with his wife, children and his dad, John Metz, the chairman of the company.
“We wanted to do something to help people who need help,” he said. “Helping to feed hungry people is what we do every day and to be able to do it for people in need is very rewarding for everybody here today.”
The project was part of the Metz “Spirit of Community” annual leadership conference. The food packets contained a red lentil jambalaya meal containing rice, lentils, dried vegetables and other ingredients for a healthy, home-cooked meal.
Jeff Metz said he learned about the initiative through the Feeding Children Everywhere (FCE) initiative that was inspired by a similar effort conducted by Chick-fil-A, one of Metz’s partners in its food service operations. Since 2010, FCE has mobilized nearly 500,000 volunteers to package over 75 million meals for hungry people in the U.S. and worldwide.
Gene Brady, executive director of CEO, said the effort demonstrates Metz’s commitment to community and its generous use of resources, including its food expertise and employee manpower.
“Hunger is a problem in our area and nationwide,” Brady said. “This effort will help tremendously — and hopefully inspire others to help us feed their neighbors across our region. Healthy meals like this red lentil jambalaya are so important for families in need. It may be cheaper to eat unhealthy foods, but in the long run, those cheaper choices are paid for by poor health.”
Brady said more than 42 million Americans, including 13 million children, live in food-insecure households. In NEPA, there are more than 76,000 who struggle with hunger, including 20 percent of all children.