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The Bigger Picture:: Guest Blogger from Athens, GA

 Reaganne Coile, a junior at North Oconee High School near Athens, GA joins us today to share her experience fundraising and planning the 2nd annual NOHS Rally Against Hunger. The NOHS FFA Chapter partners each year with Food Aid International to package meals and bring Hope to the Hungry in Georgia, and around the world.

Ronald Reagan said “We cannot help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” This is the exact purpose behind the NOHS Rally Against Hunger. We were three girls from Athens, Georgia who were passionate about fighting food insecurity both globally and in our community, but over the past two years, we (our community) have raised over $13,000 and packaged over 55,000 meals. If everyone did his or her part, global and local hunger could be almost, if not completely, conquered.

After learning that Georgia had the second highest food insecurity rates in the country, and participating in a Kids Against Hunger packaging event at the 2012 National FFA Convention, Senior Colleen Weynand, Junior Jacqueline Elder, and myself as a sophomore suggested to our advisor and officer team that we hold a similar event in our community. After doing our research, we found out that 103 kids in Oconee County-OUR Oconee County, seemingly the “wealthiest” county in Georgia, had no access to food afterschool, on the weekends, nor over the summer. After learning this, we were fully determined to make a food packaging event happen. After months and months of unsuccessfully trying to contact a similar humanitarian food-packaging organization, we spoke with a man at the Kids Against Hunger booth at the 2013 National Convention who gave us the contact information of Dr. Chris Leader, who was more than willing to help us reach our goals. We began fundraising and rallying volunteers, and on Saturday, March 14th, 2014 we successfully held the first annual NOHS Rally Against Hunger through which $6,250 provided for 25,000 meals to be distributed in the Athens area.

After the success of the event and the effect it had on our community, we wanted to make our 2015 event even more impactful by adding an educational component. Two of our officers had attended the Washington Leadership Conference through FFA, and experienced a hunger simulation dinner. The purpose of such a dinner is to simulate the classes of the world by separating participants into three socioeconomic groups based on world statistics, and serving each class a different meal and providing a different experience. Participants of the NOHS hunger simulation dinner on Friday, March 6th, 2015 said things such as, “I had no idea how many people were food insecure around me,” and, “I never thought an hour in a gym on Friday night captivated by high school students would be so impactful on me, I’m going to start planning my event as soon as I get home!” Many of the participants of the dinner returned the following day, met by over 300 more volunteers, to package over 31,000 meals funded by over $7,500 worth of donations from corporate sponsors and local partners. Plans are in the work now, two weeks after the 2015 event, for the 2016 event.

Although only a 17-year-old girl from Athens, GA, if I could give advice to anyone, I would say that while coordinating an event like this is time-consuming, the impact on the community and filling empty bellies with nutritious meals is worth your time – more worth your time than many things you might pursue. As laid out by Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth, it is our responsibility as more fortunate people to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves – this includes those who are food insecure. I would also tell someone, of any age or occupation, that you are going to run into dead ends. There are tons of people who cannot find it in their heart to give up the least amount of money, people who cannot give up a Friday night or get up early on a Saturday morning, and people who ask ignorant questions like, “A hunger simulation dinner? Like we pay $15 to come to a gym and not eat?” You CANNOT let these people tear your spirit down or stray you from your purpose. This year, we called over 300 businesses and around 30 or 40 supported our event. Keep pushing, keep contacting, and you will eventually find plenty of people who are willing to help you feed the community you all share. After we had lost sleep for months over funds, we ended up exceeding our goal by over $2,000. Donate your time, persevere when it looks like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and do not be afraid to ask for help.