The Perrydale High School FFA chapter’s collection efforts this year brought in 175 tons of food that will brighten the holidays for needy families from Coos Bay to La Grande.
The 21-year-old Food for All community service program, coordinated for the past four years by founder and retired Perrydale ag adviser Kirk Hutchinson, and aided by Christina Lorenz, Perrydale High’s FFA adviser. The tiny school is 16 miles northwest of Salem.
The students set a goal of collecting 350,000 pounds of locally produced fruits and vegetables this year.
The products are packaged in individual plastic bags containing potatoes, mixed vegetables, onions, celery carrots squash apples, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and other ag products grown by Perrydale High School and the nine other FFA chapters of the Lower Willamette FFA District.
This year, Echo High of the Blue Mountain District is also taking part, as well as newcomer Newberg High.
“We’re always collecting more and varied food from our packing warehouses,” said Hutchinson, noting that this year the program also netted 4,000 pounds of grapes.
Sometimes the generosity of the producers is eye-opening.
“We went to get 6,000 pounds of apples from Heritage Farms and they gave us 20,000,” he said.
In addition to the Willamette Valley, the food is trucked to several areas of the state as far-flung as Coos Bay, La Grande and Pendleton, said Hutchinson.
“Every local community gets all that they ask for,” he said.
Along with collecting, packing and shipping all that food, an increase in tonnage means an increase in the workload on the FFA kids.
“I don’t think we are going to be able to take in much more product,” Lorenz said on Dec. 10, close to the wrap-up of collection efforts, “just because of our capacity.”
Lorenz said her job with the program is to “facilitate the student leadership component of Food for All and organize the students and train them for the experience. This program works well with Perrydale’s Ag Business curriculum.”
In addition to the hard physical work, the students receive less tangible but more soul-building benefits, she said. One of her older, more experience FFA students — designated one of 12 Food for All “ambassadors” for his three-year role in guiding the collection and distribution efforts for the chapter — is Spencer Van Beurden, 16.
“As ambassadors, we are the first to go out each year and give presentations, see what’s happening,” Van Beurden said.
Food for All two-year Ambassador Ashton Ball, 16, dug even deeper into the more personal reasons he believes the program is important:
“Last year we went down to Coos Bay to a giant hangar at the airport that was filled with the food we had stored there and unloaded it downtown,” he said. “And all day long we had long lines of cars come through and we spent the day giving out giant boxes of food to dozens of families.
“Just to see the people’s faces, it made their year — and mine, too,” he said. “Just to see how you change these people’s lives each year is great and shows why this is such an important program.”