Meals of Hope President/CEO Stephen Popper started the organization after his mother heard of school children in Haiti having difficulty learning because they did not have enough food. She knew of a food packing program in the Midwest and wanted to know if her son would ship the food if she found a way to collect it.
Popper realized there wasn’t a food packing program in Southwest Florida to help local needy families, so he started doing research and working with food supply manufacturers. He contacted the Rotary Club of Naples, which offered to be part of the food packing process as a community service project.
Popper visited the Naples High School cafeteria as a site and began inviting people around the community for his first meal packing event (Naples High School’s Student Government Association just packed the organization’s 50 millionth meal). Popper sent 8,000 of the packed meals to Haiti and worked with the Harry Chapin Food Bank to distribute the remaining meals.
“The feeling was so empowering,” Popper said. “Just watching all of these people getting together for fellowship and packing meals. I made a commitment to pack one million meals that year. We just packed our 50th million meal. We are very blessed to be able to help the hunger epidemic to this degree.”
After that first packing event, Popper began to research what types of food would provide the most nutrition. He created a Beans and Rice packed meal with added soy protein. He then created a Macaroni and Cheese Meal, fortified with 21 vitamins and minerals, that beat a more recognizable brand in blind taste tests.
“It was like hitting a home run,” Popper said. “The meals were so well received. Over the years we have developed four different meals – the Beans and Rice Casserole; Fortified Macaroni and Cheese; Fortified Pasta with Tomato Sauce; and a Fortified Cinnamon Sugar, Diced Apple Oatmeal. We actually had someone tell us he can’t find a macaroni and cheese in stores that is as good as ours.”