More than 100 Pine Bluff volunteers rang in a rainy Earth Day Saturday at Pine Bluff First United Methodist Church by packing some 21,000 meals into boxes to distribute to local food pantries.

The boxes will be distributed to local pantries such as Salvation Army and Neighbor to Neighbor, organizers say. Many of the volunteers were student-athletes from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, as well as Pine Bluff High School and Watson Chapel High School.

“Part of our whole mission is community service,” UAPB Athletic Director Lonza Hardy Jr. said. “We try to instill in both staff and students [an urge to volunteer at] reading programs, elementary, and middle school.”

The 125 or more volunteers worked to pump-up music and semi-regular smashes of a large suspended gong to mark their progress, said Michael Lee, an official with Rogers-based The Pack Shack. In just under two hours, the volunteers packed 21,348 meals, Lee said. The non-profit Pack Shack seeks to raise awareness about hunger issues. Nationally, Arkansas is one of the most “food-insecure” states. The Pack Shack's hashtag is #beneighborly.

Inclement weather discouraged plans as part of the City of Pine Bluff's monthly day of service to plant trees and clean local neighborhoods until a later date. But Stephen Bronskill, special projects coordinator for Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, said many of those activities will be folded into UAPB's “Roaring for the Community” service event on Saturday, April 29. Student organizations plan to fan out into the city to assist with small repairs and upgrade projects that day beginning at 8 a.m. To inquire about volunteering, contact UAPB student Christopher Ogburn at 870-820-804.

First United Methodist Reverend Mike Morey also spoke about the church's community gardens. The 14 garden plots were created with the hopes that neighborhood residents who did not have access to fresh food would take advantage, he said.

“Anyone who wants to use a raised bed garden can plant,” Morey said.