By now, you’ve probably heard about the National FFA Organization’s global initiative to fight hunger called “Feeding the World–Starting at Home.” You may have even taken the FFA Pledge to Fight Hunger online at FFA.org/hunger.
One in six Americans is experiencing food insecurity, so there’s no time to waste. It’s time to act, and there are countless ways you can incorporate hunger awareness into your chapter activities.
The three goals of the National FFA hunger initiative are to educate (understand the issues and effects of hunger), engage (organize hunger relief efforts) and communicate/advocate (share what you’ve learned and advocate for the hungry).
“We want to make sure FFA members are actively learning about hunger and seeing the face of hunger in their own communities,” says Marilyn Ross, National FFA program director for global and hunger initiatives. “Hunger is real, and we don’t often know who is affected by it. It could be that our next-door neighbor is food-insecure – or the student sitting next to us in school.”
To be food-insecure doesn’t necessarily mean a person is starving to death or emaciated. It means they lack access to food at times throughout the year.
“There are children who go hungry on weekends, and by the time they eat meals at school, it makes them nauseous,” Ross explains. “Food insecurity means you are not always sure where your next meal is coming from.”
Consider engaging members of your chapter to interact with people who are food-insecure, whether by sorting food at a food pantry, serving meals at a soup kitchen or delivering meals to the elderly. Many senior citizens living on fixed incomes have to decide between paying their utility bills and buying food every month.
“Serving those who are food-insecure should not cause FFA members to look down on people or see them as pitiful,” Ross says. “Instead, it gets them engaged so they understand the issue of hunger more deeply.”
In 2012, 140 FFA chapters in 41 states were awarded FFA: Food For All grants totaling more than $330,000. Chapters used the money to fund hunger relief efforts in their communities. Together they served nearly 50,000 people and formed 102 new community groups that will continue fighting hunger.
“The more passionate students are about a project, the more powerful its impact will be, so start by taking an interest inventory to see what your members are interested in doing,” says Stefonie Sebastian, an education specialist for the National FFA Organization.
“One Florida chapter raised more than 160 tilapia and donated it to hungry families. They are the smallest school district in Florida, so they proved it doesn’t matter how big or small you are – you can impact your community just the same.”
“Serving those who are food-insecure should not cause FFA members to look down on people or see them as pitiful. Instead, it gets them engaged so they understand the issue of hunger more deeply.”
Here are some ideas you can consider, as you develop your hunger-fighting plan.
1. Raising Food
Food banks nationwide are in need of sources of fresh meat, eggs and produce, so other chapters are raising hens to donate eggs or starting community gardens to donate produce. In 2012, chapters donated 780 dozen eggs, nearly 11,000 pounds of meat and fish, and more than 147,000 pounds of produce to the hungry in their communities.
“In Idaho, we saw one chapter glean fruit trees that had been left untouched by the owners, who were elderly and could no longer care for the trees,” Sebastian says. “The chapter got permission to care for the trees, and they gave the fruit to an after-school program that in turn provided 300 youth with healthy snacks after school.”
2. Gleaning Fields
Chapters can even establish relationships with local farmers and ask for permission to glean their fields after harvest.
“Sometimes a lot of food is left in the field,” Ross says. “It might be a little misshapen or it might not be commercial grade, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.”
3. Food Rescue
Food rescue involves collecting unserved food from local restaurants or supermarkets (food that would otherwise be thrown away) and redistributing it to the hungry.
“In Indianapolis, an organization called Second Helpings goes into restaurants and hotels and rescues food that’s been prepared but never served, and they repurpose that food to be distributed to shelters,” Ross explains. “Look around your community to see where there might be unused food.”
4. More Ways to Help
Ross says other FFA chapters have seen success through other types of campaigns, including:
• Filling backpacks with food and distributing them to students at risk of going hungry on weekends.
• Hosting community workshops to teach people about food preservation, canning and container gardening.
• Partnering with the Meals On Wheels Association of America to deliver meals to senior citizens.
• Recruiting hunters to donate meat through Hunters Helping the Hungry.
Seeing Is Believing
Communicating about hunger issues and advocating for the hungry can even help chapters recruit new members. Consider organizing a service project related to hunger and inviting students outside your chapter to join your efforts.
“Sometimes the best motivation is for students to see and experience what hungry people go through,” Ross says. “Seeing the faces of hunger is very humbling.”
FFA: Food For All Grants
FFA: Food For All grants are awarded every February. Chapters may apply for up to $2,500 to support yearlong service-learning projects focused on developing and implementing sustainable hunger programs. Applications are available in October and must be submitted by early December. For specific dates, visit www.ffa.org/foodforall.
– Jessica Mozo