The Beef for Backpacks and Pork for Packs programs have been a huge success by any measure, putting healthy beef and pork protein sticks in the backpacks of thousands of chronically hungry elementary school students across the state.
As part of these programs, the Oklahoma Farming and Ranching Foundation takes donated cattle and hogs to produce the beef and pork sticks. These protein sticks have become a consistent, local source of food for kids struggling with hunger thanks to a collaboration between the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Beef Council, Oklahoma Pork Council, Oklahoma State University’s Food and Agricultural Products Center, Ralph’s Packing Company in Perkins and Chickasha Meats.
“Meating” a Need
The programs foster relationships with local farmers, food manufacturers and food processors to give the food sticks to Oklahoma children in need. During the 2016-17 school year, backpacks provided food for more than 29,000-plus schoolchildren.
The protein sticks are distributed through the Food Bank’s Food for Kids program, run by the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. Since 2003, the Food for Kids program has helped fill the hunger gap on weekends and holidays by giving food when the school lunch program is unavailable.
To help sustain the Beef for Backpacks and Pork for Packs programs, the Oklahoma FFA Association has issued a challenge each year to donate animals or cash to the cause through its Hunger Challenge. In 2017, members of 226 Oklahoma FFA chapters donated 540 cattle and hogs and money that helped make over 1 million protein sticks for the programs.
“Our goal, as set forth by our state officers, is to be able to provide a million protein sticks for the food banks,” says Jack Staats, state program administrator and state FFA advisor.
To accomplish this, Staats says, “FFA members are taking an active part in their local chapters and in the animal ag industry, as well as communicating with fellow students on the benefits of the Hunger Challenge program and the rewards it possesses.”
FFA chapters raise thousands of dollars, which is matched by the Oklahoma Beef Council to help make the protein sticks.
A Sense of Awareness
According to Staats, FFA’s Hunger Challenge instills the ideals of community service and agriculture awareness – a priceless moral foundation that endures a lifetime.
“This program has not only brought the hunger issue to the forefront of students’ perception, but to adults as well,” he says.
This awareness is apparent in the dedication of volunteers such as Thad Doye of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, who spent countless hours transporting donated cattle and hogs across the state to make the Beef for Backpacks and Pork for Packs programs successful.
Doye’s commitment stems from seeing “so many kids motivated to donate their animals to the cause, because they don’t want to see other kids go hungry – and often, it’s their peers,” Staats says. “I hope these kids learn that somebody always has to step up and take care of others. As agriculturalists, we need to make sure everyone has something to eat. This is a good cause for agriculture.”
Staats encourages others to join the cause by contacting a local agricultural education or FFA program instructor today.
“We have so much to be grateful for regarding our young people,” he says.