Students starting food shelfFor the past two weeks, FFA members at Red Wing High School have been organizing and holding a food drive. Students have been dropping off cans and boxes of non-perishable food on their way to class.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
For the past two weeks, FFA members at Red Wing High School have been organizing and holding a food drive. Students have been dropping off cans and boxes of non-perishable food on their way to class.
But instead of giving the collected food to the Red Wing Area Food Shelf like they did last year, the food this year is being stockpiled in a teacher’s lounge just off the cafeteria. It’s the beginnings of the high school’s own food shelf.
“Instead of going to the community, it will go to the school,” FFA member Leila Hussain said. “The food is going to our peers.”
“The food shelf in Red Wing does a tremendous job,” Activities Director Matt Schultz added. “For us, we’re trying to supplement what they’re doing.”
Schultz said the idea for the high school food shelf came after noticing that many schools in the Anoka-Hennepin School District had their own shelves.
“It seems like the program is very successful there,” he said. “I decided it was something that we could do.”
At Red Wing High School, about 21 percent of students receive free or reduced lunches, Minnesota Department of Education data shows. But Schultz said that hunger may be more widespread than that number shows.
“I would guess that anywhere from a fourth to half of our students everyday are looking for food,” he said.
Schultz said the high school program will be especially helpful for students who can’t yet drive or can’t otherwise make it to the Red Wing Area Food Shelf during the times that it’s open.
“This will just be another avenue for them to use those resources,” he said.
While organizers said some final details have yet to be worked out, they know that the high school program will be set up much like the United Way’s Packing for the Weekend program that currently operates at Sunnyside and Burnside elementary schools.
Backpacks will be pre-loaded with food. Teachers or program administrators then will place the backpacks in participating students’ lockers. That way, organizers said, other students never have to know who is getting help.
“It has to be confidential,” Hussain said.
“It would never say who is getting the bag,” FFA adviser Chris Sheehan said. “Kids will be able to walk out of school and look like everyone else.”
In order to receive food, Sheehan said students won’t have to qualify or meet any other requirements.
“If anyone is interested, it’s something they can get,” he said.
Students simply have to fill out a form and turn it in to a teacher or other staff member.
Backpacks have already been donated for the high school program. The food is already rolling in, too. So far, during the FFA’s food drive, 1,200 pounds of food and close to $900 have been collected. That will supplement the food that the football team collected during this year’s homecoming game and activities.
That much food is a good start, organizers said, and putting them closer to the program’s Dec. 1 launch date.
“We’ll try to get it going as soon after Thanksgiving if we could,” Schultz said.
To keep the shelf going in the future, FFA will continue to hold its annual food drives, Sheehan said. Other school groups will do drives as well, and Schultz said food and monetary donations will also be collected from community members at sporting events.
“If they bring to any of our events, we’ll accept it,” Schultz said.
Student groups, such as FFA and sports teams, will probably be doing most of the backpack packing and food inventorying, Sheehan said.
“FFA members will be able to work in there” and make sure everything is organized, he said.
So far, organizers say they’re proud of how the students have stepped up and pitched in to get the high school’s food shelf started.
“It’s pretty amazing what a bunch of high school kids can do,” Schultz said.
How you can help
The Red Wing High School food shelf is looking for monetary or food donations, including canned meats, fruits and vegetables, peanut butter and other non-perishables like pasta and rice.
Money or food can be brought to the high school or to any high school sporting event.
Organizers stress that monetary donations go further than food donations. One pound of donated food provides about one meal, while each dollar can provide eight meals.
FFA wins innovation award, earns three-star distinction
Last month, Red Wing High School FFA was awarded a National Model of Innovation Award for its work with food programs.
FFA adviser Chris Sheehan said only 10 FFA chapters in the country receive an Innovation Award.
“To see Red Wing a part of that is really cool,” he said.
Last year, Red Wing FFA held a number of events to help fight hunger. The first was a hunger banquet that assigned people to low, middle and upper classes and provided them food that fit their social status. The lowest groups had to eat rice out of their hands.
“That really showed how sometimes you can’t affect what you eat,” FFA member Leila Hussain said.
The FFA group has also organized and operated the high school fruit program, which gives students fruit every day after school as a healthy snack. In addition, the group held its first food drive last year.
“Our organization is all about food. It’s really teaching students to address our community needs,” Sheehan said. “I'm very excited for our students and the hard work they do.”
Red Wing FFA was also recognized as a three-star organization — the highest possible distinction — for the first time this year.