Urbana High School student Jared Weller packs up meals to fight hunger in Champaign County. Katherine Collins/Staff

Champaign County students pack 75K meals for the hungry

Champaign County high school students packed 75,000 meals on Thursday to donate to local shelters and food pantries and fight hunger.

The Urbana High School chapter of Future Farmers of America brought the Meals of Hope program to the community last year when it packed 50,000 meals for three local organizations. This year students wanted to expand the program and involved FFA chapters from every school district across the county — Urbana, Mechanicsburg, Triad, West Liberty and Graham.

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“We wanted to try to find a way to get the county more involved,” Senior Urbana High School student Jared Weller said.

About 150 students packed the macaroni and cheese meals to be distributed locally to places like the Caring Kitchen shelter and Stepping Stones Outreach Ministries. Each bag contains six servings and is fortified with protein and vitamins.

“We have a lot of poverty in Champaign County,” Weller said. “And we knew there was a way that we could at least help people not be malnourished.”

Meals of Hope is a national program that aims to end hunger. Urbana students learned about it at the FFA national leadership conference in Washington D.C.

“We can take this idea and bring it back to Urbana,” Weller thought when he learned about the program.

One in five Americans is food insecure, Program Director for Meals of Hope Steve Boyett said. That means one in five people didn’t know where their next meal would come from at least once in the past year.

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It hits close to home for Urbana High School Agriculture Education teacher Steve Wilhelm.

“One of my own students came back and said that the meals have come full circle because they had to go and they got one of the meals that we had packaged last year,” he said.

All 50,000 meals from last year have been handed out, Wilhelm said.

Caring Kitchen Director Marilyn Cohn said they ran out of the meals they received last year in about nine months.

Students are excited to give back to the community, Wilhelm said, something he hopes will continue once they graduate.

“We want to instill this in the students … Maybe this will stick with them that it is important to give back to their community,” he said.

More than $18,000 was donated by local businesses and community members to make the project possible.

The FFA hopes to pack 100,000 meals next year, Weller said, and spread the program to other local counties.