Volunteers made their way to assigned tables set up on the floor of State Farm Arena Saturday morning. More than 5,000 volunteers would helo pack one million meals as part of the annual community event. Photos by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

The third annual 1 Million Meal Pack took place Saturday, Sept. 6 inside State Farm Arena. Despite the Atlanta Hawks not returning to the court until Oct. 15 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in their preseason opener, the arena was packed with cheering and boisterous fans.

As DMX’s ” Party Up” played over the loudspeakers more than 5,000 volunteers would contribute to the effort to combat food insecurity in metro Atlanta. The volunteers worked at 71 tables throughout the day with the goal being to pack 1 million meals. Nearly 1 in 9 people in metro Atlanta are considered food insecure, according to data from the Atlanta Community Food Bank. With every one of the meals that are packed being distributed locally, the volunteer effort goes a long way to helping adults and children in Atlanta have a meal at the end of the day.

Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman and his youngest daughter Mara showed up to volunteer. Hearing that more than 5,000 other people were joining them throughout the day Shipman said, “I think it shows the spirit of the city. It’s also because the city’s residents are hopeful and care about each other.”

Atlanta Hawks legend, Hawks in-game announcer and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Dominique Wilkins wasn’t surprised by the number of people volunteering either. “You have a lot of people that really care about what’s going on out here and they want to do their part to help,” he said. “To have all these volunteers here is strong and it’s something that we’re proud of.

By 10 a.m. there were over 175,000 meals packed and ready to be shipped around the city.

The theme for the day was simple: One Day. One Community. One Million Meals.

“This is all about stepping up and being true to Atlanta,” said Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena Vice President of Community Impact and Basketball Programs Job Babul as he looked around the arena as a steady stream of volunteers marched to their assigned tables. “It’s a super successful event and we couldn’t do it without State Farm, U.S. Hunger and our fans.”

Ten to fifteen volunteers, wearing red hairnets and red 1 Million Meal Pack t-shirts, worked at assigned stations inside the arena, 71 in total, and rang red cowbells every time a box was packed and taped close. The boxes contained six complete meals each, which consisted of 48 bags of jambalaya (red lentils, long grain white rice, dehydrated vegetables and pink Himalayan salt, which is considered a healthier option than traditional table salt due to it being less processed).

There were six shifts that volunteers ages 5 and up could have applied to work. The first shift began at 8 a.m., with all shifts running for an hour and a half, and the final shift of the day ending at 5 p.m.

Tanya James, corporate responsibility manager for State Farm said the effort was “making a difference in the community.”

“We look at opportunities to bring together volunteers to combat the problem of food insecurity,” she said. “We want to connect to the community and this is like a homecoming.”

As pallets were packed with boxes, Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena CEO Steve Koonin climbed some steps onto a stage that was set up in the center of the massive space where professional basketball takes place. “This is one of the great days in our city,” he said. “We only want to continue seeing this grow.”

The event is fully funded by the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena and as U.S. Hunger CEO Rick Whitted thanked the Hawks and the volunteers he added, “We do these all around the country, but there’s no energy like Atlanta.”

Actress Gail Bean checked in to volunteer as well. A native of Stone Mountain, Bean brought her goddaughter and cousin with her to help. “It feels really good to be a part of something bigger than me,” she said. “It means a lot.”

The sound of red cowbells ringing could be heard as she finished her statement.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...