The dreary weather did nothing to dampen the spirits of the energetic crowd who gathered Friday outside the offices of First American Home Buyers Protection Corp. in southwest Santa Rosa.

Music blared through loudspeakers and dozens of people lined up at tables set up in the office parking lot, where employees spent over six hours packaging 135,000 meals bound for a city in South Africa.

The event, which ran through most of the work day, was the culmination of a nearly-three month fundraising effort by the Santa Rosa branch of the insurance company. First American partnered with the charity Kids Around the World for the project.

"These meals are going to feed 500 people for a year," said Tricia Chinappi, director of sales and marketing and leader of the committee for the fundraising efforts. "We are changing their lives."

First American, which last year was named one of Sonoma County's best places to work, first heard about Kids Around the World when the company's Irvine branch completed a similar fundraiser last year.

The Santa Rosa office, which employs nearly 200 people, launched their own campaign Jan. 14 looking to raise the $38,750 needed for the effort. The office collaborated with two other branches in Phoenix and Van Nuys, some of whose employees traveled to participate in Friday's packaging event.

Over the past few months, First American held multiple fundraisers ranging from dinners, bingo nights, cocktail parties and the office favorite — a cook-off between employees using the same ingredients they would later package to Africa.

"The committee really made this thing come alive," said Chinappi. "This is bringing us together as a company, and the vibe is so energetic."

Along with the meals, the company will also sponsor a playground. Both the meals and playground equipment will be loaded onto a container ship in San Clemente, where it will embark on a three-month journey to South Africa.

The boat will arrive in August, and First American employees will be there to meet it. The group will distribute the food they've packed and build three playgrounds for local children.

One of the playgrounds will be built near an orphanage, and others near sports facilities in poverty-stricken areas, said Erik Davidson, a food coordinator with Kids Around the World.

"It's not a glamour vacation," said Chinappi, describing what will be a 14-day endeavor.

Paarl has 19 orphanages, said Monica Seeley, who has worked as a project manager at First American for the past 10 years.

"The children in (Paarl) average three meals a week," said Seeley. "We'll get to feed 370 children one solid meal a day for an entire year."

(You can reach Staff Writer Melody Karpinski at 521-5205 or