SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Pork Producers Association celebrated reaching 1 million pounds of pork donated to regional food banks through its Pork Power program at the place where it all started 14 years ago.
“We always hoped it would grow. We never thought it would get there, but it sure is great to see this day,” said Mike Haag.
Haag, a pork producer from Livingston County, is a past president of the IPPA and was on the IPPA board back in 2008, when board members were trying to find some way to ease the financial pain brought on by record low hog prices.
They came up with a win-win idea — donate sows, thus removing them from the hog supply, process them into ground pork and donate that meat to food banks.
“We talked about what if we could put some money toward processing and these sows that people aren’t getting anything for, get them out of the system and take that pressure off the market and give the meat to people who are in need,” Haag said.
Pork Power was born. The first donation was in 2008 at the Central Illinois Foodbank.
“We never imagined that this program would be as wildly popular as it has been, marking the donation of just over 1 million pounds of ground pork,” said Thomas Titus, current president of the IPPA.
On Dec. 13, with the 8,900-pound donation of pork, the IPPA passed the 1 million-pound donation mark by 15 pounds, putting total donations at 1,000,015 pounds since 2008.
Haag and Titus were joined by staff and the past board president from the CIFB and fellow IPPA board members and staff and representatives from the Illinois Association of Meat Processors and the Illinois Soybean Association for the donation.
They were backdropped by the boxes of packages of ground pork wrapped in white butcher’s paper.
Jennifer Tirey, the executive director of the IPPA, who joined the organization in 2014, said the Pork Power program has evolved and grown in a number of ways.
Other Illinois commodity groups, including the Illinois Corn Growers Association and the ISA, are now involved with the program.
Producers and the public can donate money to the program that is used to purchase ground pork to be donated.
In addition, the IPPA features a new Pork Power T-shirt each year. The design for the 2023 shirt will be revealed at the Illinois Pork Expo in January.
Those shirts are sold at the IPPA’s Pork Patio at the Illinois State Fair and the proceeds also go toward the Pork Power program.
The monetary donations proved to be a real boon to the program during the COVID-19 pandemic when pork producers were having trouble getting pigs processed.
“During COVID, locker space was problematic for our farmers. There were a lot of farmers who were having trouble getting their hogs to market. They called us and asked how they could donate hogs to Pork Power, but the locker space was full,” Tirey said.
“That’s when the monetary contributions really did come in very handy because we were able to still help meet the demand for protein that was so high for families during COVID.”
Tirey said the annual goal for the program has been to try to hit at least 100,000 pounds of ground pork donated to the nine Illinois food banks.
“I don’t see that we are going to stop there. I’m looking for another 100,000 pounds in 2023. We are almost to a total of 4 million servings of ground pork and that is pretty amazing,” she said.
Once the ground pork is received by the food bank, it moves out fast. The partner agencies, which include food pantries, soup kitchens, residential programs and after-school programs, receive emails from CIFB with lists of available items. The agencies then put in a bid or request on a first-come, first-served basis.
“This is definitely one of the more popular products that is requested by our neighbors who visit food pantries. Meat and protein is great to have and essential as part of a meal, so this will be huge in helping us to meet that demand,” said Tim Kirsininkas, the public relations manager for the CIFB.