This article is the first in a series about how farmers and rural communities are helping to address hunger in their areas.

According to Feeding America, one in six individuals in the United States is designated as being food insecure.

“It’s your neighbors, the people you work with, and sometimes, it is within your own family,” said Robin Murray, community services supervisor for Catholic Charities Food Pantry in Decatur, Ill.

Catholic Charities was one of the volunteer groups that helped to collect food items at the annual America’s Farmers Food Drive during the Farm Progress® Show in Decatur this August. The group also was a recipient of a portion of the collected donations.

 “As we approach the holiday season, people are very generous to us, but hunger occurs year-round, so the need for food assistance continues as well,” Murray said.

Since 2009, the America’s Farmers Food Drive has partnered with two U.S. farm shows during the summer to promote hunger awareness and support local food pantries. In addition to the food drive at the Farm Progress® Show, a food drive is also held at Husker Harvest Days in Grand Island, Neb. For every pound of food collected, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation donated $1 (up to $10,000) to Feeding America, and Monsanto donated $1 (up to $10,000) to the United Way.

“The United Way of Decatur and Mid-Illinois is so grateful to Monsanto for sponsoring the food drive,” said James Keith, director of community impact at the United Way of Decatur and Mid-Illinois. “The Monsanto team was fantastic to work with, and the food and money raised went a long way in helping an increasing number of individuals in need in our community.”

This year, the America’s Farmers Food Drive collected a total of 22,118 pounds of food in Decatur at the Farm Progress® Show. The food donations were divided into thirds, supplying three local pantries with more than 7,350 pounds of food.

“The donation came at the most opportune time,” said Jerry Pelz, director of the Northeast Community Fund. “This summer included the two busiest months in the history of the organization. Nearly 4,000 families visited our food pantry within that time frame.”

“The need for food in this area has grown tremendously,” said Dave MacDonna, director of development and community relations for the Salvation Army of Decatur and Macon County. “We are seeing 300 to 500 families a week. We used the donations to fill our food boxes, which provide a family with three to four days of food to help them get through a crisis.”

“The donations did help,” said Murray. “During the month of September, we gave out 1,787 bags of food, and those bags contained 20 to 25 pounds of product. The 7,350 pounds of food was part of a total of 40,000 pounds of food that went out the door that month.”

In addition, each year FFA chapters and 4-H clubs are invited to participate in the food drive and statewide competition for the largest food donation, but they also take home a valuable life lesson.

“Participating in the food drive teaches our youth the concept of why it is important to give back to their communities,” said MacDonna. “It also helps them realize that hunger is a major problem right here in the United States.”

The charities work to alleviate hunger in their community in their own ways, which includes offering prepared food boxes, allowing clients to select their own items and encouraging people to select healthier options through an education program, especially for clients with diabetes or cholesterol problems.   

The organizations are grateful for the continued support that they receive and credit the generosity of the community to helping them keep the doors open to serve those in need.

“More and more people have had a friend, neighbor or loved one affected by hunger, and they know better that the person affected is not just some nameless, faceless individual,” Pelz said. “The community responds very positively and generously, and we certainly saw that in the collections that came from the people that attended the show. We are extremely thankful for that and Monsanto’s generosity in matching the donations. 

“It does make a difference. When everyone pulls together, it allows us to do what we do.”

Since the Food Drive launched in 2009, farmers, community members and ag youth have collected more than 100,000 pounds of food at the two farm shows, and Monsanto has matched the maximum $10,000 donation for both shows each year for a cumulative total of $100,000.