September 27, 2012

RSVP – Lead With Experience

By Bill Sedlacek
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program
of Eastern Iowa and Western Illnois

John and Gail Kessler: On the Frontline Against Hunger

John Kessler, a retired John Deere computer systems manager and his wife Gail, the former owner of “Chocolate Lace” in Moline have been members of RSVP since 2005. At that time, Gail volunteered in the Gift Shop at Trinity Medical Center, and John was a construction volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, which he continues to do.

In December of 2008, they watched the PBS News hour featuring a segment on the international organization “Kids against Hunger.” Usually, John says, he finds it difficult to watch the vivid images of children suffering and would leave the room or switch the channel. This time he did neither and watched the entire segment. “God made me stay to watch,” he says. Apparently, causing John to watch the News Hour segment was just the beginning of God’s intervention in the Kessler household. First, John sent a check to the organization, and then Gail investigated the “Kids against Hunger” website. Then in January, Gail said to John, “Why don’t we start a chapter here?”

They did, and in June of 2009 held their first packaging event. Later that year, Kids Against Hunger Your Quad-Cities became a RSVP station, providing opportunities for senior volunteers to help John and Gail with supervising youth volunteers and delivering bulk materials to packaging sites. Since then, with RSVP members and many other volunteers, they have packaged 1,200,000 meals, primarily for distribution to Nicaragua, Honduras and Haiti with roughly 10 percent distributed to food pantries here in the Quad-Cities.

Kids against Hunger was started in the late 1970s by a Minnesota businessman, Richard Proudit (Proudfit), who went to Honduras to help with recovery from a hurricane. While there, every day he saw children die of hunger. Appalled, he returned to Minnesota, sold one of his businesses and formed Kids Against Hunger International, devoting all his time and resources to the endeavor. His first effort was less than successful. When he purchased local supermarket food and sent it to India, he found that the children could not tolerate the food, in some instances becoming very sick or even dying.

Returning to the U.S., he began working with some of our major food companies, such as General Mills, Archer Daniel, and Cargill. Together, they developed a mixture of dried ingredients that includes rice, soy, vegetables and 21 vitamins and minerals. The trials of this mixture were a huge success, and the business of organizing what became 80 to 90 U.S. based satellite packaging sites began.

Kids Against Your Quad-Cities is one of the ministries at The Center at 14th and Brady in Davenport, the former Wayne Montgomery furniture store . The dried food is shipped from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa to a warehouse in Davenport. Each shipment has enough ingredients for 100,000 meals. At Quad-City packaging events, the ingredients are scooped, weighed, sealed and packed during packaging events. Typically, a team of 12 can package 1,440 meals in one hour at a cost of $360. At these events, the number of packages has ranged from 1,440 to 10,000 or 20,000, with one event packaging 81,000. Along with RSVP support, they have a lot of repeat volunteers from businesses, church groups, civic organizations and the like, but they still have a need for more seniors willing to help supervise young people at packaging events, and they can use more volunteers to help with bulk materials.

The meals are packaged in response to requests from churches, schools and civic groups who want to help the less fortunate and they handle the shipments. Together, John and Gail cheerfully devote over 600 hours a year to Kids against Hunger. As John says, it is God’s Work and they are both happy to be doing it.

Further information on Kids Against Hunger can be found on their website,

Seniors wishing to be involved with Kids Against Hunger can also contact RSVP by calling (309) 793-4425 or emailing