The theme of last week’s 84th state FFA convention in Madison was “See the Vision, Live the Mission.”  That closely follows the national FFA motto of “Learning To Do, Doing To Learn, Earning To Live, Living To Serve.”  And FFA members lived up to those ideals in a big way at the convention with their “Rally to Fight Hunger” campaign.

        FFA members, alumni affiliates and FFA supporters from about 75 different chapters across the state spent time this past Monday packing over 70,000 meals for the hungry in the Madison area.  The meals were all given to the Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin for distribution to the needy in that part of the state.  The cost of the project was just over $10,000 with the money raised by FFA chapters, FFA alumni and the FFA Foundation.  

        The “Rally to Fight Hunger” project, according to retiring state FFA officer, Bethany Rieth of Oconto Falls, “was in addition to the ongoing Day of Service project that FFA members have done in and around Madison for the past five years.”  This new state project was an offshoot of the national FFA campaign which packaged over one million meals last fall at the national FFA convention to help feed the needy around Indianapolis, the site of the convention.  Rieth said she and her fellow officers “were so inspired by what happened at the national convention where members came together to feed so many that we wanted to bring that same initiative to Wisconsin and hopefully have local chapters even take it back to their local communities.”

         The food for last week’s effort in Madison came from a partnership of the FFA and a food aid group called Kids Against Hunger.  Rieth was the student coordinator for the statewide effort and she told us, “what we had to do was raise $10,000 and the Kids Against Hunger would provide the meal ingredients.”   At the convention, 300 volunteers gathered to actually package individual meals for distribution. Rieth added that the response to the program was overwhelming and they had to say no to some chapters and individuals who wanted to help with the packaging process.  She also added that “with the support we had this year we would like to expand the program next year.”

            That expansion seems very likely since one of the supporters of this year’s effort, Landmark Services Cooperative, headquartered in Cottage Grove, has already pledged the needed $10,000 for the program for 2014.

             Rieth also said the Second Harvest Foodbank was “thrilled to get the 70,848 meals because they told us there are a lot more people in Wisconsin that need these meals than we realize and they will make a huge impact in this area of the state.”  With the money already pledged for next year and with time to raise even more, Rieth hopes the program can be expanded significantly for next year.

    Other state FFA organizations have also picked up the idea of helping feed the hungry in their respective states but Rieth thinks the Wisconsin effort might be the biggest and is hopeful it’ll stay that way with the success of this initial effort.  She also said she plans to stay as active in the project as she can even though a new state officer will soon take over as the student coordinator for the new year.  Being a student at the UW-Madison “should keep me close to the program”, she told us.                

The Rally to Fight Hunger, though, was just one aspect of the FFA’s annual Day of Service to the Madison community as a thank you for being such a good host to the state convention for the past 15 years.  Other activities last week included FFA members donating over 500 hours of labor to help at the River Food Pantry in Madison, the Madison city parks, the Community Action Coalition, and Troy Gardens, as FFA members continue to follow and practice their motto.