Hawks and State Farm Arena seek 5,000 fans to pack a million meals

Hawks point guard Trae Young helps out during the Million Meal event in 2019. The volunteer effort, which was discontinued during the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, will return this July. Photo: The Atlanta Hawks

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Hawks point guard Trae Young helps out during the Million Meal event in 2019. The volunteer effort, which was discontinued during the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, will return this July. Photo: The Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena have plans to feed a million people — and they want your help.

The basketball team and the 21,000-seat venue have relaunched an initiative that began in 2019, but was temporarily halted during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis.

According to the Hawks, “Statistics provided by the Atlanta Community Food Bank show that nearly one in eight Georgians are living with food insecurity, including one in six children.”

To address this situation the Hawks and State Farm plan to prepare a million meals for Georgians in need. The event will take place on July 16, when the Hawks organization hopes to welcome enough volunteers to the arena to complete the project in a single day.

The shelf-stable meals — a rice-based jambalaya mix — will be packed at the State Farm facility in six 90-minute shifts. Organizers hope to staff each shift with 600 to 900 volunteers.

The organizers are asking businesses, community groups, schools, churches, sororities, fraternities and individuals, ages 5 and up, to register for at least one shift.

Registration opens to volunteers on Monday, May 16, at Hawks.com/mealpack.

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Volunteers fill the floor of State Farm Arena during the Million Meal event in 2019. About 5,000 people participated in the effort to alleviate hunger in metro Atlanta. Photo: The Atlanta Hawks

Credit: Atlanta Hawks

Volunteers fill the floor of State Farm Arena during the Million Meal event in 2019. About 5,000 people participated in the effort to alleviate hunger in metro Atlanta. Photo: The Atlanta Hawks

Credit: Atlanta Hawks

Combined ShapeCaption
Volunteers fill the floor of State Farm Arena during the Million Meal event in 2019. About 5,000 people participated in the effort to alleviate hunger in metro Atlanta. Photo: The Atlanta Hawks

Credit: Atlanta Hawks

Credit: Atlanta Hawks

The Million Meal Pack was first held in October of 2019, and was successful, drawing more than 5,000 volunteers and passing the million-meal mark in the ninth hour.

The Hawks are working with U.S. Hunger to coordinate the effort, and will distribute the meals to local families through a half-dozen local anti-hunger groups.

Each person that completes a volunteer shift will receive a free T-shirt, along with a voucher for a free pair of tickets to an upcoming Hawks home game. Exact game dates will be announced following the release of the 2022-23 season schedule.

Members of the Hawks and other celebrities will be joining the volunteers, so you could be assembling a jambalaya mix next to Trae Young. The late U.S. Congressman John Lewis was among the notables at the 2019 event.

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Steve Koonin has been CEO of the Hawks since 2014.

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Steve Koonin has been CEO of the Hawks since 2014.

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Steve Koonin has been CEO of the Hawks since 2014.

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Purchasing the materials, coordinating the volunteers, getting the meals delivered “is a six-figure effort,” said Steve Koonin, CEO of the Hawks and State Farm Arena.

But bringing those people together is an important part of the solution, he said. “We believe one of the best ways to engage with the community is to involve the community, rather than just write a check and make a grant. We believe everybody can make difference in Atlanta.”

Koonin will be out on the arena floor, along with his children and grandchildren, nodding his head to the tunes from the DJ, and packing shelf-stable ingredients into sealable containers.

He has sampled the rice dish and approves. Each sealed container can serve six people, though users might add sausage, vegetables or other ingredients as they see fit.

“I have been fortunate, I’ve had many jambalayas,” said Koonin. “I don’t have this trim figure for nothing.”