Through the generosity of Oregon area farmers and the service of Oregon High School FFA members, the meat coolers at the Oregon Area Food Pantry are a little fuller and more prepared to feed the community.
This summer, OHS FFA officers applied for and received a $3,000 “Living to Serve” grant from the national FFA organization to help feed the community. The students’ motivation for this project came from a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, FFA adviser Jillian Beaty said; that being the demand for milk sharply dropped earlier this year due to sudden closures, and many farmers had to dump up to 20% of their milk.
FFA members spurred on by witnessing the waste of usable dairy organized Oregon residents and employees at Vita Plus to pool money together to buy dairy products to donate to the Oregon Area Food Pantry. In May, the money led to a donation of 100 gallons of milk and 360 pounds of butter for pantry guests that may have been dumped, instead.
The Living to Serve grant gives FFA chapters the ability to support service projects that meet a community need in four areas: Safety, environmental responsibility, engagement or hunger, health and nutrition.
As a result, OHS FFA is partnering with farmers who are willing to donate their livestock or poultry to be used as processed meat for the food pantry. The grant covers the cost of fees at processing plants.
The first animal was processed two weeks ago with the help of the grant’s funding – a steer that produced 1,100 pounds of meat – into individual one-pound burger packages. While that donor wishes to remain anonymous, FFA advisor Jillian Beaty said the generosity of the donation gave her “goosebumps.”
The donation will make a big difference for food pantry patrons, Beaty added.
“This is a big donation of an animal from such wonderful people,” she said. “They’re very good, very humble people who have been in the community for a long time.”
In May, FFA students took a tour of the food pantry and learned about some of the limitations placed on the food pantry stocking meat on its shelves.
Donors cannot purchase large quantities of meat to repackage, or process their own meat for donation; it must be processed at a facility. That’s why Beaty said it’s more convenient to donate canned items, but added that people don’t think about donating canned proteins such as meat and peanut butter.
Donating those necessary proteins can also be cost-prohibitive, Beaty said, which drove the FFA students to ensure that all pantry patrons had access to protein.
“The donation we did as a collective whole to help the community,” Beaty said. “The students were moved when they learned there’s some limitations to what meat can be donated. They said ‘this isn’t right, we shouldn’t have the community want so much.’”
The FFA is working with meat processors in Dane, Green and Rock counties, all of which are finding ways to sneak in appointments for butchering for the students, despite being booked-up until January.
Beaty is currently raising 30 broiler chickens as part of her high school Agricultural Education class, which will be processed and donated to the pantry. $350 of the grant has gone to raising the chickens. The FFA members are hoping to have a sow donated in spring to process into sausage.
“We are pretty excited about this opportunity,” she said. “This partnership only works because of farmers stepping up and saying ‘yes, let’s do this, let’s make a difference together.’ The more we can collaborate, we can make such a difference in a time that’s challenging.”
While this is not the first time the FFA has been awarded a Living to Serve grant, Beaty said this is “definitely a different take.”
A few years ago, members gathered food and supplies for weekend backpacks for students who needed those items at home. This time, the grant is a lump sum for the year, and the FFA could reapply next year to continue the project.
Beaty said that having this grant is one of the “silver linings” in the pandemic, as it has allowed the FFA students to be a part of something larger than themselves and bring different groups of people together to feed the community.
“If my students are a catalyst, that’s awesome, but the end goal is people in Oregon have ample food because no one should be without,” she said.
Farmers interested in donating an animal for processing may contact Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.