A tradition of feeding families: Annual Lone Grove High School FFA chapter event responsible for thousands of meals bound for Haitian families

Michael Smith
The Lone Grove cafeteria operating as an assembly line on Thursday evening. Lone Grove agriculture instructor Bethany Reiterman said FFA chapter officers organized a majority of the annual event.

Even though invited FFA chapters weren’t able to attend the annual event, Lone Grove High School students were able to fill up every station of a food packing assembly line in the cafeteria on Thursday evening. The Stamp Out Starvation event — another part of National FFA Week — is one of many service projects the Lone Grove FFA chapter undertakes each year, but chapter vice president Cassidy Baughman said recruiting classmates for this is just a little different than other projects.

Unlike spending time at nursing homes or at animal shelters, the labor involved for Stamp Out Starvation might seem repetitive or difficult. Some 30 volunteers, mostly students, wore bright orange hair nets and filled prelabeled bags with a rice casserole. As a bag moved from the first table to a second table, dried soy, vegetables and flavorings were poured in and weights had to be precisely measured.

That is where chapter vice president Cassidy Baughman was stationed with some rice and a small scale. “In some ways it’s difficult sometimes because this is a different type of community service, but at the same time Lone Grove FFA is just so willing to work,” she said.

About 30 minutes after the project’s scheduled start time, two more volunteers arrived and immediately got to work emptying large bags of rice into large containers. “That’s part of what we do. We show livestock, we work with pigs, we’re not afraid to get dirty,” Baughman said, who never stopped working at her station for this interview.

Finally, bags were sealed and placed in cardboard boxes which will eventually be shipped to the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Each bag will provide up to six meals for one of millions of Haitian households. For Stamp Out Starvation founder Monte Stewart, those meals will be a big help for families with children in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.

“We’re feeding thousands of kids a day in Haiti with wheat from Oklahoma,” Stewart said. “I’m talking like 12,000 to 15,000 a day.” When he started the project on a part-time basis in 2007, he had worked with a similar mission group and learned about the nutritious meal packages. In 2011, he shipped 723,000 meals. In 2017, Stewart said he delivered 2.74 million meals.

“For the most part, a lot of these FFA Week events they take responsibility for and I pretty much just supervise,” said agriculture instructor Bethany Reiterman. She relies on two officers for each event throughout the week and approves decisions directed by students. Baughman is an officer for the annual Stamp Out Starvation and has a connection to the project’s beginning at Lone Grove.

Her older sister was a Lone Grove FFA officer several years ago, and Baughman said the program was first talked about at a youth leadership conference. The students launched it at Lone Grove about four years ago and have grown it to include other schools in the area. Last year students from Fox, Dickson, Wilson, Ryan, and Ringling helped package the meal kits.

Stewart said some of the meal kits end up getting air lifted by U.S. Air Force transports. Many end up being cooked by families he knows and sees regularly. One woman in particular had texted him during his stop in Lone Grove. After reading the French Creole text, he walked over to a binder with photos from Haiti and pointed out the woman.

The attitude toward poverty and hunger is much more bleak, according to Stewart. “One time I told this lady ‘it really makes me sad that you don’t eat every day,’” he said. “And she said, ‘oh, we won’t die.’ It’s just their attitude. They don’t plan to eat every day.”

Stewart manages to run Stamp Out Starvation entirely on donations. He said more than 60 organizations between Kansas and Texas, including Lone Grove, regularly donate resources to provide the meals.

His regular trips to Haiti each year suggest the personal motivation behind the program. For Lone Grove students like Baughman, the tradition of hard work and community service suggest similar motivations in keeping the annual FFA program alive. “It’s not just livestock. It’s not just animals,” she said.