The National FFA Organization’s initiative to fight hunger became a lot more personal for 29 chapters in Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Louisiana and North Carolina this year. Each chapter received a $2,000 grant in fall 2012 as part of the Invest 2 Fight Hunger (I2FH) Pilot Program, and they used the money to educate their communities about hunger issues in their own back yards.
“Our overall strategy, ‘Feeding the World–Starting at Home,’ has three pillars – Educate, Engage and Communicate or Advocate,” says Marilyn Ross, program director for FFA Global and Hunger Initiatives. “Like the FFA Food For All grants, the Invest 2 Fight Hunger grant incorporates education – not just doing something about hunger, but also educating people about it. The program is meant to help members learn more about hunger and the issues hungry families face, and then help bust hunger myths. These aren’t just lazy people looking for a handout – they might be unemployed or stuck in a low-paying job and don’t have enough money to pay for their rent and utilities and buy food.”
I2FH grant recipients were asked to host at least four hunger presentations or workshops for their communities. The chapters had to speak to at least one school and at least one group that included farmers.
“Chapters have become very creative in telling the story of hunger,” Ross says. “For example, the Central Hardin FFA in Kentucky educated Kentucky National Guardsmen about gardening so they could take that knowledge to Afghanistan, where they are doing agricultural development work. Other chapters have hosted canning workshops to help people can fresh tomatoes when their gardens grew more than they needed.”
The Rantoul Township FFA chapter in Illinois caught the attention of their fellow students by staging a poverty lunch presentation. About 100 students from their high school participated, and each was given a playing card that determined whether he or she would be in the lower, middle or upper economic class.
Fifty of the students represented the lower class, or poverty, and had to sit on the floor and share 10 plates of rice and beans. Thirty-five students represented the middle class and sat at a table where they ate fried chicken lunches. And 15 students received upper class cards, which allowed them to sit at a round table where they were served an appetizer, steak, potatoes and dessert. Rantoul FFA then gave an eye-opening presentation about hunger with statistics, both globaland local.
“The Live Oak chapter in Louisiana is developing hunger lesson plans for elementary students that will be distributed to all the teachers. The teachers are very open and welcoming to the idea of teaching a hunger lesson,” says Kayla Lumpford-Mitchell, intern for the FFA Invest 2 Fight Hunger program. “And the Overhills FFA chapter in North Carolina did a sweet potato gleaning and donated the sweet potatoes to a food bank and Martha’s Kitchen. They have also built a kiosk to conduct food drives at their school, and each class has their own side of the kiosk in which they can insert canned foods.”
Mitchell says the best way to learn about hunger in your community is to get in touch with your regional food bank and local food pantries. Another great resource is www.feedingamerica.org, where you can learn about hunger facts and hunger in your county.
“Food banks have vast amounts of statistics and resources to jump-start your knowledge of hunger in your area,” she says. “My biggest suggestion to spread the word is to rally with all the leadership organizations in your school or community and get everyone on the same page about hunger and your goal. Create an awareness campaign everyone can help spread. Bringing everyone together makes the impact of your efforts much more effective.”
The Invest 2 Fight Hunger program is sponsored by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The “Feeding the World–Starting at Home” initiative is funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Farmers Feeding the World, Land O’Lakes, RAM and Nationwide Insurance.