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Decorah FFA leads school in packaging meals for typhoon victims in Philippines

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 01/19/2014 8:13 PM

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DECORAH — Decorah FFA members led fellow students in an effort to feed victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Working with Outreach Inc., a nonprofit organization from Union, Decorah students in grades 9 through 12 packaged 20,000 meals in two shifts at the Danan Lansing Building on the Winneshiek County fairgrounds.

Ruth Sutton, Decorah FFA reporter, said FFA members were leaders of the 20 tables. Each table worked as a team to assemble meals. The meals included a scoop of vitamin and mineral powder, dried vegetables, fortified soy protein and rice. Each bag was weighed and sealed. The meals, which provide six nutritionally complete servings, were packed into boxes and carried to a pallet.

"When a table filled a box, everyone screamed and yelled," Sutton said. "The tables competed to get their boxes done faster. It was a lot of fun."

Decorah FFA worked with Outreach coordinator Ray Perry. He brought the food and packaging equipment, and he took the completed meals back to the Outreach warehouse.

"You see disasters on television, and you feel so far away, and you don't think you can do anything to help," Sutton said. "This was a way to help people in need who are so far away."

FFAers decided to do the project after seeing volunteers working with Meals from the Heartland at the state FFA Convention.

"We thought it was a great idea and wanted to do it ourselves," Sutton said. "As officers we worked together with Mr. (Rick) Twedt, our FFA advisor, to find out more. Meals from the Heartland couldn't come to Decorah, but we found out about Outreach, Inc. and worked with them."

They knew that they wanted to involve the whole high school and they wanted to package 20,000 meals. The cost to do that was $5,000.

"We had a Culver's Night at the local Culver's with 15 percent of the proceeds going to the project," Sutton said. "Customers were also asked if they wanted to donate $1 to Decorah FFA. We raised $1,200. The other $3,800 came out of our FFA checking account."

Culver's manager came to the packaging event. FFA members invited Culver's owner Craig Culver.

"He couldn't come, but he and the local manager were just amazed by what we were doing," Sutton said.

Sutton liked that the event took the focus off material items and put it on building relationships and helping those in need.

Sutton is grateful for the experiences she has through FFA.

"If I had not joined FFA, high school would have been very different," Sutton said. "I did creed speaking as a freshman. I was one of those people who wouldn't be caught dead in front of a crowd. I put many hours into desensitizing all the jitters and butterflies. I wanted to get more involved."

Sutton said high school principal Kim Sheppard made it possible for all students to participate.

"She went through a lot of effort, and she thought it was a great success," Sutton said.

"Our Decorah FFA has given thousands of dollars locally to community non-profit, commodity groups, and other charitable organizations through the years, but we have always wanted to make a difference globally, as well," said Rick Twedt, Decorah FFA advisor. "Over 600 of our high school student body members, along with our 82 FFA members worked together to produce 20,000 meals that will reach the shores of the typhoon ravaged Philippines soon. We are very grateful for this opportunity to help others. We knew we had the financial means within our FFA chapter and the labor support of our student body and FFA members to get this done."