While the average high schooler has enough on his or her plate to keep busy from dusk to dawn, some have more worries than others – like finding out where their next meal will come from. In an effort to help fight hunger locally, members of Champaign County’s five Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapters decided to join forces to provide the local community with thousands of free meals through a Meals of Hope Food Packing Event held at Urbana High School.
On Thursday morning, the UHS gymnasium looked more like a food packaging plant than a place for athletic competition as roughly 150 FFA students and numerous adult volunteers from the Rittal Corporation – an event supporter – came together to package 75,000 meals.
According to Mallory Zachrich, UHS agriculture education teacher and Urbana FFA advisor, each meal consists of macaroni noodles, a cheese flavor packet, and “a fortified soybean base that adds nutritional value to make it a nutritionally balanced meal.”
In order to cover the cost of the food and packaging supplies, which were provided by the nonprofit organization Meals of Hope, the county’s five FFA chapters came together to raise $18,750, the amount need to purchase 75,000 meals at a cost of 25 cents each.
Meals of Hope Executive Director Stephen Popper states on the nonprofit’s website, “There is a silent epidemic happening within our country today, and although the reality can be overwhelming, Meals of Hope and its partners are making definite strides in combating hunger and food insecurity here at home.”
Since its inception in 2007, Meals of Hope has helped provide 37 million free meals to individuals throughout the country.
Zachrich added the Urbana FFA’s participation in the Meals of Hope event over the past two years has provided the students with not only a chance to help the community, but it’s also provided a teachable moment as well.
“Through the event, students have learned about the need for food assistance in Champaign County, and this education has sparked a desire in them to help their community and be a part of something bigger than themselves,” she said.
Birth of local Meals of Hope movement
With food insecurities affecting communities across the nation in varying degrees, the Urbana FFA chapter decided last school year to help feed those in need here in Champaign County by becoming a Meals of Hope partner.
“Previous to us hosting, some students were exposed to the event through attending the Washington Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.,” Zachrich said. “Through hosting the event, we are provided a scholarship for one student to attend (the annual leadership conference) if we can package 50,000 meals.”
During last year’s inaugural Meals of Hope event at UHS, Urbana FFA students raised $12,500 in donations from area businesses and individuals, enough for 50,000 meals. The group, however, wasn’t satisfied and decided to reach out to its fellow county FFA chapters to grow the event and help feed more county residents.
“While last year was a success in raising the funds by ourselves as a chapter, we knew that the second year wouldn’t yield as much support,” Zachrich said. “We knew there was strength in numbers, and our fellow FFA chapters are just as happy to help the community as we are.”
After all 75,000 meals were packaged, each FFA chapter pledged to help deliver the meals to the following area food pantries: Stepping Stones, Wherehouse, Caring Kitchen, Oasis of Mercy, St. Paris Federation of Churches’ Community Food Pantry, Concord Food Pantry, Second Harvest Food Bank at the North Lewisburg United Methodist Church, WL-S Key Club Backpack Program, West Liberty Cares and Lutheran Services in Bellefontaine.
By participating in outreach efforts like the Meals of Hope Food Packing Event, Zachrich and her fellow county FFA advisors are hopeful it will help lay the groundwork to inspire students to commit to a lifetime of volunteerism within their local community.
“We hope this event ignites a big enough impact in them that they want to continue to help their community beyond high school,” Zachrich said.