Meals from the heart(land)

Food packaging event kicks off National FFA?Week in Webster City

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Anne Blankenship Webster City High School students packaged more than 60,000 meals Monday during a Meals for the Heartland event sponsored by the Webster City FFA Chapter.

The aftermath of a February snowstorm and a late start for Webster City schools couldn’t stop a determined group of students from donning hairnets and packaging thousands of meals for the Meals from the Heartland program.

The event held Monday in the high school PE gym was organized by the Webster City FFA Chapter.

Ag instructor and FFA advisor Kurt Veldhuisen said this was the second year that the students had planned the project in conjunction with National FFA Week.

“Meals from the Heartland reached out to various FFA advisors and chapters last year and our officers thought this could be a marque event for our chapter as part of FFA Week,” he said.

Meals from the Heartland is based in West Des Moines.

Last year the students packaged 30,000 meals. This year, the chapter set its sights a little higher. They doubled their goal — 60,000 packaged meals — and they reached that goal before the last bell. Not too bad considering there was a two-hour late start on Monday.

“We were a little worried this morning about not being able to hit the goal,” he said. But by 1 p.m. with the last group of students working hard to fill the quota, Veldhuisen said they were ahead of schedule.

All of the Webster City High School students were involved in the project – about 500 in all. That means that each student produced over 150 meals, according to Veldhuisen.

“I think that’s just tremendous,” he said. “The FFA chapter coordinated it, but every single student in the high school helped.”

Several local businesses helped to sponsor the event, and even jumped in to help the students with the packaging efforts.

Veldhuisen said he thought the project was a great way to show kids how to give back to their communities.

“We’re in the heartland of food production. National FFA Week highlights what our kids learn about agriculture and I think one of the most important things they can learn is giving back to the world,” Veldhuisen said.

While many of the meals packaged will be shipped to different locales around the world, some will stay closer to home.

“We have issues even in Hamilton County with people who are hungry and food insecure,” Veldhuizen said.

George Filber with Meals from the Heartland was supervising the production lines at the Webster City High School event.

“We love events like this … we love that we’re in rural Iowa and working with high school students and the FFA,” he said.

Filber said his organization does more than 100 meal packaging events each year, similar to the Monday’s project.

“We do as many as we can, as many as can be funded,” he said. The packaging events are hosted by schools, churches, community groups as well as businesses.

Jacob Hirsch, an FFA member and one of the organizers of the event, said he was pleased with how well the students worked together.

“It all turned out really well,” he said. “Everyone’s loving it and working hard.”