Atlanta Hawks, volunteers pack 1 million meals to help the hungry

Somewhere in Atlanta, people in need are going to get a meal prepared by legends U.S. Rep. John Lewis and NBA star Vince Carter.

The civil rights icon and 22-season ballplayer were among the more than 5,000 volunteers who filled State Farm Arena on Saturday to prepare a million meals that will be distributed to locals through seven organizations.

The event was hosted by State Farm and the Atlanta Hawks, with help from the group Feeding Children Everywhere, which aims to feed those in need around the world in a healthy and sustainable way.

The goal was to alleviate food insecurity, said State Farm spokeswoman Kim Wade, who spent six months planning the event. “We wanted to do something more than write a check,” she said.

The volunteers packed a million child portions of jambalaya, which should be shelf-stable for two years. There were 64 assembly-line tables of between 10 and 15 volunteers pouring the ingredients — red lentils, long grain white rice, dehydrated vegetables and pink salt — and then sealing the bags.

Dave Green, CEO of Feeding Children Everywhere, said Lewis, who was adding vegetables, was the pacesetter for his table.

Green's group said one in four children in Atlanta are facing hunger, while the number of high poverty neighborhoods in metro Atlanta has tripled since 2000, as the population has grown.

“People really struggle in today’s society with the cost of living,” he said. ” … A lot of families, they’re experiencing hunger for the first time.”

“It’s a scary thing,” said Hawks guard/forward Carter. “It’s a growing epidemic.”

Breanna Nixon, 38, was packing up meals with her husband and their two children, 3-year-old Xavier and 5-year-old Giana.

“Our big goal is teaching them to give back and that not everyone is as blessed as we are,” said Nixon, of Duluth.

Xavier had a big smile while getting hugs and high-fives from the Hawks cheerleaders.

The team and State Farm put out the call a couple months ago for 5,000 volunteers. Each volunteer will get a voucher for a free pair of tickets to a future Hawks home game.

All volunteers had to wear a hairnet, even Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce.

“I don’t have any hair, but I guess I got to wear a net,” he said.

Hot hand…

The Hawks players who attended the event helped pack the jambalaya. So we asked them all: How do you like your jambalaya?

Vince Carter, guard/forward: "Not spicy," adding that he's "not a seafood guy."

John Collins, forward: "Not too spicy."

Trae Young, guard: He doesn't eat the stuff, but he knows his grandmother's is the best due to some secret spice(s?) she has not revealed.

De'Andre Hunter, forward: "A little over the top" spicy, adding that it has to have chicken and, of course, sausage.