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Wapsie Valley students learn about hunger, package meals for food bank

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 02/19/2013 1:44 PM

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FAIRBANK, Iowa — Wapsie Valley High School students learned about poverty and hunger on Jan. 24 and took steps to help solve the problem.

Students were randomly divided into three income groups —high, middle and low — at mid-morning for a poverty dinner.

"We wanted to open the eyes of our students and help them reflect on a world in need," said Abrah Meyer, a senior who organized the event with fellow FFA member Crystal Kleitsch, a junior. Other FFA chapter members assisted.

Kleitsch and Meyer came up with the idea for the service project after experiencing a similar event at the FFA Washington Leadership Conference last summer. The conference teaches students to become effective leaders and create plans to engage their communities through service, Meyer said.

Those in the high-income group were seated at linen-covered tables. Their meal of dinner rolls, chicken, potatoes, green beans and chocolate cake was prepared and served by Sarah Wilke's foods class. They ate off china and drank from crystal goblets. They represent 15 percent of the world's population with a per capita income of $10,726 or more.

The middle-income group ate a regular school lunch of sloppy joes. This group represents 35 percent of the world's population, and their income is between $876 and $10,725 per year.

The low income group sat on the floor. They represent 50 percent of the world's population, and their average income is less than $875 per year or $2.40 per day. Their meal was rice and beans, and some had to share a plate of food, which they ate with their hands.

Seniors Heather Sommerfeldt and Miranda Sovich were seated on the floor.

"We represent poverty," Sommerfeldt said. "We feel like it's not fair."

"But it's reality," Sovich said.

"The high-income group gets fancy food, and we get rice and beans," Sommerfeldt said. "It shows you how low-income people feel, and you start to understand more. Everyone is complaining. In real life, I'm middle class, but compared to this, I'm high class."

Freshman Kassidy Kuhlmann said she felt fortunate she got her usual school lunch.

"I'm excited that I didn't have to be part of the low-income group, but if I'd been chosen to be part of the high-class group, I would have been happy," said Kuhlmann.

Junior Collin Bergmann enjoyed the high-income meal.

"It's delicious, but I feel spoiled," Bergmann said. "It's shocking to see that they (the low-income group) don't get anything when we get the best meal possible."

Sommerfeldt, Sovich and the rest of the low-income group eventually ate their regular lunch.

"I appreciate what I have," Sovich said.

When lunch was finished, the 188 students filed into the auditorium where Leon Sporrer, of Outreach Inc. at Union, set up a meal-packaging operation. Wearing hairnets, gloves and aprons, students, faculty and staff worked 10 to a table packaging fortified macaroni and cheese meals.

Senior Jake Levendusky scooped soy and senior Nick Gaul macaroni.

"It's great to be able to help the less privileged," Levendusky said.

"I was in the low-income group, and it felt unfair," Gaul said. "But it was also nice to know what others have to go through every day."

"So many people around the world aren't able to get food, and we're doing something here to help supply food to people," said senior Ross Platte as he put labels on meal packets.

"This is organized chaos," said Sporrer as he moved from table to table answering questions.

Students assembled, weighed, sealed and packed the meals in boxes, 36 to a box. The food was donated to Cedar Valley Friends of the Family, Northeast Iowa Food Bank, the Salvation Army, the Fayette County Food Shelf and the Fairbank Food Pantry.

The day's activities cost $7,000. Sponsors were Farm Credit Services, Oran Telephone Company, Dunkerton Cooperative, Wapsie Valley Education Foundation, Northeast Security Bank in Fairbank, Readlyn State Bank, Fayette County Farm Bureau, Sam's Club, Center Inn and IC Church.

"As we saw the day move along so smoothly, Crystal and I shared a moment of joy," Meyer said.

"To see all these boxes of food and the students working together is awesome," Kleitsch said. "We couldn't ask for a better student body."

"This was a wonderful experience," said Wapsie Valley FFA advisor Ellen Doese. "They organized everything. We're looking at doing this as an annual thing. Kids understand the purpose of service."

"What you did was amazing," Sporrer told the students. "Without you, nothing is possible."