Saturday, July 16, was not a typical day at State Farm Arena. Trae Young was not draining threes and Kendrick Lamar was not performing onstage. And yet, on that sultry mid-summer day, the multi-purpose arena was filled with the energy of a Hawks playoff game or big-time concert, as thousands of volunteers streamed through the doors in a collective effort to pack one million meals.
Indeed, the Million Meal Pack event, organized by the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm to fight food insecurity in Metro Atlanta, was a smashing success, with a grand total of 1,019,232 meals packed.
The Hawks’ largest single-day community service project, one that hadn’t occurred since summer 2019, involved over 5,000 members of the Greater Atlanta community, including dignitaries such as Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, State Farm Senior Vice President Dan Krause, City of Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, NBA Hall-of-Famer and humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo and Congresswoman Nikema Williams.
While Mutombo and former Hawks big man Shelden Williams were a welcome sight at State Farm for legions of fans, it was the untold number of Atlantans representing schools, community groups, religious organizations and businesses who carried the day and, ultimately, ensured that the overarching goal was met.
“The volunteers of the day were the real celebrities,” says Tanya James, corporate responsibility manager at State Farm. “Nothing was lost from ’19 to ’22 with the pandemic. [The Million Meal Pack initiative began in 2019.] All things considered, with everything going on, the lapse in time with the pandemic between the two events, [we] exceeded the goal with the amount of enthusiasm in the room. The short response time for volunteers to show up and really give up their time on that Saturday to be able to be there and pack those meals, I think they’re really the heroes and celebrities of the day.”
Without question, food insecurity has grown worse during the pandemic and current economic environment and remains a severe problem nationwide. Statistics courtesy of the Atlanta Community Food Bank indicate that nearly one in eight Georgians is living with food insecurity, including one in six children. The situation in Metro Atlanta, where it is estimated that one in five residents is impacted by food insecurity, is even more dire.
“The face of food insecurity may not look like what it did prior to the pandemic, or it may,” says Andrea Carter, vice president of corporate social responsibility for the Atlanta Hawks. “I think for all of us, it’s [important] to be very aware and conscious that just because someone may look like they are not in need, there may still be a need there.”
That the Million Meal Pack event, in only its second year of existence, managed to pack 169,872 bags of food (delivered throughout Metro Atlanta by U.S. Hunger, a hunger relief organization and a host of local nonprofits) serves as a testament to the leadership that organized what has already become a staple in the city’s summer calendar.
“We were thrilled,” adds Carter. “We exceeded our goal of a million meals. For us, that really was a measure of success. The city answered the call. Area nonprofits and folks in and around the city of Atlanta will benefit from the work that was done on Saturday [July 16].”
One of the underlying goals of the Million Meal Pack event was to ensure that volunteers were not just productive, but also enjoying themselves. There was a concerted effort to inspire a game-day atmosphere, whether by having the volunteers enter the court through the players’ tunnels or the dancers performing during the afternoon-long packing spree.
As a reward for helping out in 90-minute shifts, volunteers spilled out onto State Farm Drive to blaring music, refreshments and games — a celebratory atmosphere that reflected the goodwill and community activism engendered by the collaboration between the Hawks and State Farm.
As Hawks CEO Steve Koonin remarked after the event, “We are very grateful for all of today’s volunteers and extremely proud of the results from today’s Million Meal Pack in partnership with State Farm. We understand that it is a huge undertaking to tackle food insecurity throughout Atlanta, and we believe that this one-day community service initiative will make an incredible impact and also inspire our communities throughout metro Atlanta.”
- Atlanta Hawks
- David Ostrowsky
- State Farm Arena
- Kendrick Lamar
- Trae Young
- Million Meal Pack
- Food Insecurity
- Hawks CEO Steve Koonin
- State Farm Senior Vice President Dan Krause
- City of Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens
- Dikembe Mutombo
- Congresswoman Nikema Williams
- Shelden Williams
- Tanya James
- Atlanta Community Food Bank
- Andrea Carter
- U.S. Hunger
- Food Bank