PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — Interesting fact No. 1: The world record for hunger care relief packages put together in three minutes is 554.
Interesting fact No. 2: That record is about to be broken.
The Meals of Honor program, founded by Pensacola's Jodie Butler, is expecting to put together 3,000 hunger care relief packages in three minutes this Veterans Day.
Ask Butler and he will tell you he is not out to break records. Instead, he is more interested in the publicity that comes with it.
"I just knew that if there was a record that we could break, that I could turn that into PR and be able to feed more," Butler said. "We're going to break a world record for feeding homeless veterans on Veterans Day. It's going to be big."
If Butler's name does not sound familiar, it should.
Spurred into action by the death of his brother-in-law, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Daniel Clay, in Iraq on Dec. 1, 2005, Butler has made aiding veterans his life's passion.
"We lost my brother-in-law almost 14 months to the day after we lost his sister," Butler said. "His letter that he left us told us to honor those that are protecting that which is worth protecting. And I thought about that.
"I've always been one that's been grateful for the military. I say 'Thank you for serving,' but I've never done anything tangible . I didn't know what to do. I just started looking for ways and I didn't have to look far. When we first started, we collected phones and sent them in and got calling cards. That's where it began."
That was in 2007, when Butler started the Help Them Call Home program, which helped deployed military members stay in contact with friends and loved ones.
"My original goal was to get 100 phones to turn in and get 100 calling cards," Butler said. "We sent millions and millions of minutes of calling cards — $25,000 dollars worth.
"Now we do meals. I got very, very ill, and they kind of dwindled the program down as we withdrew our troops in Iraq."
Butler suffers from hypokalemia, an affliction he was born with that can cause temporary paralysis.
"I've had this problem since I was born and we didn't know," Butler said. "My condition fluctuates between a jellyfish that blinks — where I can't move anything but my eyes — to where I stiffen up so bad it tears my muscles."
As more and more troops began to return home, the immediate need and effectiveness of the calling card program dwindled.
That's when Butler discovered a new need.
"I just started seeing homeless veterans everywhere," he said. "The homeless population is not good for veterans, but it's smaller than a lot of people realize. It would not take that much to be able to feed them."
So Butler founded Meals of Honor, a nationwide program where people can donate used cellphones, laptops and other devices to help feed homeless veterans.
"We can fill a need here, just like we did before, where it doesn't cost anybody," he said. "They don't have to pay for the shipping label. They don't have to pay for the box. . Phones are just laying around. Ink Cartridges are changed every month in businesses."
In exchange for the phones, Meals of Honor is able to purchase VitaMeals — a mix of rice and lentils — to provide to homeless veterans.
"It's very simple," Butler said. "You just add boiling water. That's it. With this, we can not only feed them, we can nourish them. These are some of the most highly nutritious meals on the planet."
VitaMeals are made by a company called Nu Skin, the same company affiliated with the Feed The Children organization.
As Meals of Honor's success grows, others are taking notice.
Representatives from other countries have contacted Butler, seeking similar ways to support their own military.
"I have other countries calling, saying we have soldiers that have fought side by side with you. Can we do it?'" Butler said. "I want people to understand that the way this will grow, and the way that we can feed literally hundreds of thousands, is by spreading the word. We're not just a local organization. We want everybody to go to Facebook and spread the word.
"We want to make a difference."
Information from: Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com