PONTIAC, Ill. — Thousands of meals will be enjoyed by residents of Livingston County as a result of a service project led by Pontiac FFA member Libby Larkin.
Larkin, a sophomore at Pontiac Township High School, first learned about meal-packing events as a seventh-grade student.
“The 4-H was hosting one in Bloomington so my family and I went to volunteer,” she said.
As a result, Larkin learned about the need for food assistance in her community.
“That made me realize how many kids in my community really needed food,” she said. “I never knew it, so I wanted to do something in my community.”
And that is exactly what Larkin did.
“I contacted my 4-H, they got me in contact with Illini Fighting Hunger and they helped me so I could start one of my own,” she said.
Larkin organized three events in February and November 2018 and October 2019 to pack rice casserole meals.
“This year I wanted to go bigger, so I got in contact with Meals of Hope in Florida,” she said.
To fund the project, Larkin applied for a grant. She received a $10,000 General Use Grant through Compeer Financial’s Fund for Rural America, the Farm Credit cooperative’s giving program.
“To do 50,000 meals, I had to raise another $2,500 so I went to local businesses and I had so many people in my community who wanted to help me with this event,” Larkin said. “That included Precision Planting who allowed me to hold the event in this big area so we could stay social distanced.”
Those sponsors that assisted with donations for the event include: the Livingston County Extension Education Association in memory of Lois and Paul Immke and John Woodburn, Livingston County Farm Bureau, Compeer Financial Pontiac office, Country Financial-Brett Hendren, Country Financial-David Rapp, Precision Planting PTI Farm, and the Pontiac Township High School FFA and Key Club.
Over 140 volunteers including FFA members, Key Club members, 4-H members, adults and younger kids joined together to package more than 50,400 meals.
In the morning, over 23,700 macaroni and cheese meals were packaged and the afternoon crew did more than 26,700 cinnamon apple oatmeal meals.
“All these meals will stay in Livingston County,” Larkin said. “I will take them to all the schools in my county and to the three Boys and Girls Clubs.”
Larkin will distribute the meals within a week.
“I am lucky to have family members to help me since I’m not old enough to drive,” said the daughter of Dale and Jenny Larkin.
“There are a lot of great people in the world, but this event is probably one of the best ones because Libby is 15 years old, which is mind-boggling to me,” said Leon Sporrer, event coordinator for Meals of Hope.
“My first event 18 years ago was 5,000 meals and I’ve been involved with events that have done as many as 1 million meals,” Sporrer said. “Packaging 50,000 meals is average, but for a high school student, it’s phenomenal.”
This was the first meal packing event Sporrer has worked with since the pandemic caused them to be canceled.
“I was doing 18 to 19 events per year,” he said. “But I had over 20 events canceled last year.”
Sporrer has traveled to about 35 states as a Meals of Hope coordinator.
“No distance is too far that I won’t go,” he said. “I’m from Des Moines and this is my fun job. I drive dump trucks for a living.”
“This is a great activity that shows the leadership that I get to work with all the time and what students can do when they get excited about something,” said Jesse Faber, Pontiac FFA adviser.
“In this crazy year, this is really one of our first activities that students could do together,” Faber said. “We focus on students understanding food security and keeping this food in the community is huge.”
Doing fun activities is a part of the FFA program, Faber said.
“When we do stuff that’s fun it doesn’t feel like community service,” he said. “It feels like being part of something that is really good.”
For more information, go to www.mealsofhope.org.