FFA members spread out across the Madison area to lend a hand to community members during the 8th annual Wisconsin FFA Day of Service.
Over 175 youth from all corners of the state boarded buses at the Alliant Energy Center — site of the 87th Wisconsin FFA Convention this week — on Monday, and headed off to city parks, food pantries, community agencies and gardens to provide to work side by side with community leaders and volunteers.
FFA members pitched in at the Yahara River Parkway — one the of the city of Madison's 260 parks — and the UW-Arboretum, mulching trees, repairing hiking trails as well as pulling weeds and beautifying gardens.
Fellow youth had the eye-opening opportunity to witness how volunteers are ministering to the city's most needy residents by working in the clothing center and food warehouse of the Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin and River Food Pantry.
Several agencies including Community Ground Works at Troy Gardens and the Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens put students to work weeding, planting, harvesting and mulching the wide array of gardens.
At the Goodman Community Center, FFA members helped to clean and organize a preschool and after-school room and gymnasium in preparation for summer camp.
Makya Schroeder of Clintonville FFA says working at The River food pantry was an eye-opening experience.
Schroeder's FFA group joined together with FFA members from the River Valley, New Richmond, Pulaski and Parkview FFA Chapters in repacking food, cleaning furniture and sorting clothing at Dane County's busiest food pantry.
The River feeds approximately 600 families per week, going through over 25,000 pounds of food every seven days.
A small army of community volunteers help clean facilities, stock shelves and sort clothing throughout the week.
'A lot of people don't realize just how many people struggle with hunger,' Schroeder said. 'Thankfully there's a lot of people who really care and are very generous. I'm glad there are so many people willing to help because you never know when you might be in that situation.'
The River Operations Director Rhonda Adams said running the facility wouldn't be possible without the dedication of volunteers that come in several times a week to sort food and clothes and stock shelves.
'We couldn't survive without them,' Adams said. 'That's why we're so glad the FFA is here today.'
Pulaski FFA member Dawn Mroczkowski was impressed with the atmosphere of the facility.
'It's much larger than the pantry we have back home,' she said with a laugh. 'They do a lot of cool things here; have dinners for the families and volunteers, provide entertainment. It's nice that they want people to feel comfortable, otherwise they might not want to come or feel embarrassed to come.'
Development Director Amy Lord says The River is proud to be one of the few food pantries to offer community members meat, dairy products and fresh fruits and vegetables every week.
'When money is tight the first things people cut out of the budget is fresh produce and meat,' Lord said. 'Fortunately we have some great CSAs and local farms that will drop off produce. That really sets us apart.'
Mason Jauquet of Pulaski worked side by side with Emma Heineman of Clintonville and Cheyenne Lockwood of River Valley re-packaging brats and hamburgers donated by from the concessions of the Madison Mallards baseball organization.
'It's a lot of busy work but it gives us time to get to know each other and bond,' Jauquet said. 'It also gives us an opportunity to share and swap ideas with other chapters, so it's good to keep an open mind when you're down here. Everyone should learn and bring something back home to improve your home chapter.'