NEW PARIS — Over 80 National Trail students took time out from class to prepare meals for needy families in Preble County on Tuesday, Nov. 17.
Music played loudly in the high school gymnasium Tuesday as students manned tables stocked with rice, spaghetti sauce, pasta, canned goods and other staples. Others unloaded pallets, broke down cardboard boxes, and filled 500 yellow seed bags donated by Beck’s Hybrids in Indiana with two family-sized meals apiece, enough to feed 4,000 people.
“Do we have someone in every spot? On every line?” ag teacher Eric Kennel called out over the loudspeaker as the students worked. “Be careful with the glass jars. They’re fragile!”
And finally: “Welcome to the Bags of Hope. We’re doing good. We’re halfway there, so keep it up. You all are awesome!”
45 minutes after the first student entered the gym, the tables were folded up, the pallets taken away, and the bags ready to be transported to churches, food pantries, and other social service agencies throughout the county.
“I always tell people this started with four kids wanting to do a project for the National FFA Convention, and it’s evolved into this,” Kennel told The Register-Herald.
The number of students wanting to be involved has grown since the Bags of Hope program’s inception six years ago, according to Kennel. Over 80 of the National Trail FFA program’s 158 currently-enrolled students showed up to help this year.
“The only reason it wasn’t more is because of quarantines,” Kennel said. “The students want to do it, and they see the need in the community.”
Each bag contains two meals, and each meal is intended to feed a family of four, according to Kennel. Donations from Henny Penny and a $3,500 grant from the Ohio Department of Agriculture made the event possible, along with hard work from a lot of students.
The most rewarding part of working with Bags of Hope is getting to help so many people, according to Success Liaison Ashley Workman.
“Just the sheer number of people that we can serve,” Workman said. “And connecting that need to the kids at Trail.”
Kennel expressed similar sentiments.
“We work hard to teach them that you have to help yourself and your community before you can expect help from others,” Kennel said. “They each have their own little job, but if we don’t pull it together for them, they won’t realize that their little job just impacted 4,000 people.”
National Trail Superintendent Bob Fischer was equally impressed with the impact made by students.
“I’m speechless,” Fischer said. “That’s a first.”
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish