Nonprofits donate thousands of meals

Rotary coordinates distribution in Springfield and to Turkey

Over 100,000 donated precooked ready-to-eat meals are being distributed in central Illinois and overseas as a result of a collaboration among far-flung Rotary Clubs and nonprofit organizations. A container with more than 23,000 individual meals is enroute to Turkey. Arrangements are being made to ship another container to Ukraine. Pallets of meals have already been distributed in the Springfield area to Big Brothers Big Sisters, Compass for Kids, Contact Ministries, Graham Elementary School, Helping Hands, Kumler Food Pantry, Senior Services of Central Illinois, Springfield Southeast High School, St. John's Breadline and Washington Street Mission. One truckload went to Bloomington-Normal for distribution through the Midwest Food Bank. Additional pallets of meals have been distributed in Arizona.

"Small things can lead to big results," said David Fowler, a Springfield Rotarian and executive director of the Computer Banc. It's common for Rotarians to visit other Rotary clubs when traveling or relocating. It's not so common for such a visit to lead to a complex collaboration impacting people in multiple states and countries. This project came about after Katherine Turner, a member of the Baja Mar Rotary Club, visited the Rotary Club of Springfield. Turner recently purchased a house in Springfield because she has family members who relocated here. Over several months, Fowler and Turner connected their interests, expertise and Rotary Clubs, and one thing led to another.

Turner is director of Baja Bridges, a network of volunteers who provide equipment and supplies for EMTs and firefighters and other assistance for community services in Baja, Mexico. She needed help with shipping and distribution and discovered Fowler knew a lot about trucking and freight due to his work with Computer Banc. Through her many connections, Turner learned about a company in the Phoenix area willing to donate 230 pallets of "Chef 5 Minute Meals." This provided an opportunity for Fowler and Turner to collaborate. A plan was hatched to donate some of the meals to shelters and nonprofits in the Tucson area and transport three truckloads to central Illinois for distribution. Each 53-foot truck holds 60 pallets with 576 meals per pallet. Fowler is president of the Springfield Rotary Foundation, which donated $2,800 for the cost of the first truckload to be delivered to Springfield.

The devastating earthquake in Turkey occurred when these plans were underway, and getting some of the food to Turkey became a priority. Midwest Mission had already agreed to store the meals in its warehouse prior to distribution and was essential in making arrangements for a shipment to Turkey. This required an on-the-ground partner in Turkey. With its already established international relationships, Midwest Mission arranged for North Star Foundation in cooperation with Rotarians in the region to be the boots-on-the-ground partner. Midwest Mission secured approval from the Turkey Consulate. Arrangements to ship a container to Ukraine are currently pending.

The United Way of Central Illinois helped to promote the availability of 30,000 meals free to shelters, food pantries and other nonprofits that distribute meals in central Illinois. Numerous organizations and schools responded, and Springfield Rotarians helped with the sorting and distribution. There are more meals still available for distribution. Interested organizations should contact David Fowler at for more details.

This partnership also led to an expanded effort to acquire medical supplies and other items needed for humanitarian aid for Turkey. Contact Fowler for more information or go to

Karen Ackerman Witter witnessed the impact of Rotary firsthand as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in the late 1970s. She is a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise.