A dozen volunteers inside the LowCountry Community Church clapped and cheered Saturday morning as one of their pink hairnet-wearing comrades stretched tape over a cardboard box.
The table of men and women had just assembled 280 meals -- a bagged lentil casserole mix -- that will feed families across Beaufort and Jasper counties. Though their work had just begun, finishing each box was a cause to celebrate, said Maria Fernandez, a hunger project coordinator for national organization Feeding Children Everywhere.
"We just want to make sure there's so much love going into these bags," she said.
Working in assembly lines inside the Bluffton church, more than 650 people helped package more than 101,000 meals on Saturday, ministry assistant Benedette McGuire said. Several local organizations will distribute the food, including The Deep Well Project and Second Helpings of the Lowcountry, both on Hilton Head Island, and Bluffton Self Help.
Four thousand meals will go to the Lowcountry Food Bank's BackPack Buddies program, which will send the food home with low-income students over the Thankgiving and Christmas breaks.
On Saturday, table leaders kept count as the boxes filled up, sometimes yelling out their encouragement or singing along to the Christian rock blaring over the speakers.
The helpers moved at a clip, measuring out scoops of lentils, rice, pink Himalayan salt and dehydrated vegetables into plastic funnels. The completed meals made their way into plastic bags held by more volunteers.
"It's a talent you may never use again, but you know how now," one woman joked as she grabbed another empty bag.
Some volunteers came with other groups such as the Bluffton High School JROTC. Others, like church member Amanda Owens, brought their children to expose them to the issue of hunger in their own community.
"He thinks everyone eats like he does," Owens said of her 7 year old son, working across from her. "I didn't grow up that way."
Owens said her son would probably eat the lentil casserole, but not without some protest. The recipe costs a quarter to make and contains no meat, gluten, soy or genetically modified organisms, Fernandez said.
While Feeding Children Everywhere has distributed 21 million meals across the country, Fernandez said Saturday's event was the first held in Beaufort County. LowCountry Community Church began fundraising to pay for the food in April and finished last week, she said.
"It's really, really feasible," Fernandez said. "I'm sure after today, we'll have plenty of people giving us a call."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.