PELION, South Carolina — Raised by a single mother and having experienced homelessness as a youth, Teddy Tripp learned a thing or two about young people dealing with food insecurity.
And during a recent event at the Advanced Agribusiness Research Center at Pelion High School, Tripp helped coordinate a massive effort by young people around South Carolina to deal with food insecurity — in a very positive way — with nearly 200 FFA members packing more than 35,000 meals to be distributed to South Carolinians in need.
“Being an individual who came from a background when I was on the receiving end of those meals at one point when I was younger, I know what a lot of these kids in need are going through,” Tripp said. “So, for young people to take this time to be able to give back to maybe one of their friends or maybe a close relative or neighbor that these meals will impact, it speaks volumes for these young people to give up their time to be able to do this.”
Tripp is an event coordinator with Meals of Hope, a non-profit organization that partners with other organizations to fight food insecurity in the United States, operating food pantries in its home city of Naples, Fla., and hosting packaging events such as this one nationwide.
In this case, the March 23 event in the Midlands was aligned with FFA Day of Service, and South Carolina FFA members from across the state came together to focus on fulfilling a portion of the FFA motto, “living to serve,” as they partnered with Meals of Hope.
And not only did they meet their goal of 35,000 meals; they went above and beyond — packing 37,404 total meals that were set to be picked up the following morning and distributed to South Carolinians in need in Dillon, Florence, Marlboro, Hampton, Bamberg and Barnwell counties.
South Carolina FFA Executive Director Jillian Lash said that while local FFA chapters are often known for service they do in their own communities, this year’s Day of Service focused on making a larger impact on the statewide problem of food insecurity — meaning all 37,404 meals are staying in the state of South Carolina.
“Meals of Hope are doing outstanding work, and it seemed like a great opportunity for our FFA members to have that hands-on experience that Agricultural Education is known for: to putting their interest into helping their communities — and what better way than feeding them,” Lash said. “This has been a year in the making, a year of planning, so it’s amazing to finally see it today and finally see those students in there with their hairnets and working hard to make sure that those meals are ready for South Carolinians.”
And from Tripp’s perspective, knowing the difference that those meals can make in the lives of other young people around the state makes the work by these FFA members even more impactful.
“Ninety percent of the children who have perfect attendance in lower-income schools are children that are going without meals at home, because they know when they come to school, this may be the one or two meals that they get. So, with food insecurity, you’re asking a child to go without or be present in something and act like they are happy, when on the inside they don’t know how to control what’s going on. So, food insecurity is more than just something physical where a child must go without; it plays a huge role in the mental development and how it impacts that child, as well,” Tripp said.
The event was funded in part by a grant from National FFA for National Day of Service, as well as private grants and donations from around the state, and South Carolina FFA State President Drake Ariail said the packaging event epitomized key FFA values such as inclusivity and service.
“The beautiful thing about our organization is it’s for anybody — not just those from a farming background, which stood out to me because I don’t come from a farming background — and the FFA advocates for so much more than just agriculture. We advocate for leadership from people in our society, and that leadership carries over to our agricultural industry,” Ariail said. “The FFA’s name was changed … because we wanted everyone to know that the FFA welcomed all people.”
As Ariail alluded to, the letters “FFA” stand for Future Farmers of America — and are a part of its history and heritage that will never change — but FFA is not just for students who want to be production farmers; FFA also welcomes members who aspire to other careers, as well. Thus, the name of the organization was updated in 1988 after a vote of national convention delegates to reflect the growing diversity and new opportunities in the industry of agriculture.
Today, the National FFA Organization remains committed to the individual student, providing a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. In South Carolina, FFA is the agricultural education component of youth development, which is offered and operated, along with South Carolina 4-H, by the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service.
In South Carolina FFA, the total membership in 2021-2022 was 9,985 members across 118 FFA chapters and 22 Middle school FFA programs. Nationally, there are more than 850,00 members in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Lauren Knight, South Carolina FFA State Vice President, who got involved in FFA as a freshman at Swansea High School and is now a freshman at Clemson University, said the Day of Service event was exactly the kind of work that the organization prides itself in doing.
“FFA’s motto is ‘learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live and living to serve,’ so in South Carolina we have always harped on that last little phrase — living to serve — so service is a big part of the FFA, whether that be on more of a local level or the statewide level like today,” she said. “And really, FFA is all about leadership and bringing those agriculture students into an area that they can flourish.”
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