FFA students give area hungry a hand at Husker Harvest Days
By Robert Pore
As thousands enjoyed the 40th year of Husker Harvest Days (HHD) this year, they were reminded of the tremendous technological innovations that help Nebraska farmers and ranchers feed the world with the bountiful harvests they reap each year.
But as thousands marveled at HHD’s annual agricultural showcase, thousands of FFA students were quietly helping out those in the community and the surrounding area who seek to meet the growing food needs of their communities.
Cammie Benson, public relations and volunteer coordinator for the Heartland United Way, was helping to coordinate the distribution of food that was collected during HHD to Grand Island and area food banks and organizations that help the needy Friday at the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island.
“We have a lot of area food pantries and nonprofit organizations shop in our huge semi thanks to Chief Construction, who let us use it for Husker Harvest Days,” Benson said.
Representatives from the area food pantries and nonprofits gathered to collect food from the semi, then load it in their vehicles so they can distribute it to the needy via their local organizations.
Along with Heartland United Way, partners in the food collection program include Husker Harvest Days, Monsanto, Nebraska Farm Bureau and Farm Progress.
The many FFA chapters whose members attend HHD every year were asked to bring nonperishable food items with them. Each FFA student who brought four or more food items to the show, was given a free ticket to HHD.
“If they bring in the canned food, we will pay for their way, along with our sponsors, to get into Husker Harvest Days for free,” Benson said.
All the food that was in the semi at Conestoga Mall Friday was food brought by FFA students.
“We haven’t collected anything from our grocery stores yet,’ Benson said.
The second phase of the HHD food drive is to collect food from area grocery stores to help the needy.
“It is just amazing,” Benson said about the FFA students. “They did a fabulous job this year.”
While they were still determining how much food was collected this year at HHD, Benson said Friday morning it is sure to surpass the 11,000 pounds of food that was collected last year at HHD.
“By the looks of it,” she said, “we should be way above the 11,000 pounds from last year.”
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The food drive is part of the Heartland United Way’s #Food4Families Food Drive that takes place in Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick counties Sept. 4–22. Food donations will remain in Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick counties to provide food for local families in need through local food pantries and backpack programs. Area grocery stores that participate in the program include Super Saver and Hy-Vee in Grand Island, Hometown Market in St. Paul, Kerry’s Grocery in Dannebrog and MNO Hometown Foods in Wood River.
The #Food4Families Food Drive is just one of many programs that the Heartland United Way initiates each year to help the poor and the hungry, especially families and children. While Grand Island’s economy has prospered in the last decade and the community has a low unemployment rate, each year the food needs of the community grow, creating a heavy demand on local food pantries and charity food distribution programs. More than 60 percent of the children in the Grand Island Public Schools qualified for its subsidized breakfast and lunch program in 2014-15 school year.
Katie Simmons, marketing coordinator for Hope Harbor, which provides shelter for homeless women and their children, said being able to participate in the #Food4Families Food Drive “means a lot to Hope Harbor.”
“It helps to fill our food pantry not only for the shelter but our food pantry for the general public,” Simmons said. “This is food that will feed our residents in our shelter and our general assistance program.”
To continue to meet the demands on its services, Hope Harbor recently added a new emergency shelter that doubled the number of beds available to those in need.
“It is very important,” Simmons said, “putting food on the table for those kiddos and families who are struggling just to pay a light bill.”
Steve Stefanowicz of St. Paul, who represents that community’s food pantry that provides for those in need in Howard and Greeley counties, said the food giveaway from the Heartland United Way “means a lot because a lot of people need it.”