Not a farmer, FFA student, or any other Ag United for South Dakota member left The Banquet last night without hearing several times two little words that held such meaning: “thank you.”
Last night AGDAILY had the privilege of joining 40 Ag United members for their annual Farmers Serving Families volunteer program at the Banquet meal ministry in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Founded in 1985 with just one meal per week, the organization now serves 13 meals per week at two locations. The Banquet is a volunteer-based ministry, which means their meals are paid for, prepared by, and served by volunteer groups who come from Sioux Falls and the surrounding area.
In 2016 The Banquet served 196,000 meals, and at least 25,000 of those meals were served to children under 12. The ministry goes through approximately 15,000 gallons of milk each year.
Last night Ag United members served for the eighth year in a row. During that time, 300 agricultural community members have volunteered their time, serving 2,000 plus meals.
“Farmers are always great at helping others in need, and what better way than to provide a meal to those who need it most,” said Dave Poppens, a corn, soybean, and cattle producer near Lennox, South Dakota. “It warms my heart that the little amount of time that I take out of my day can make a difference for those who are less fortunate than many of us.”
Poppens has been serving at the Banquet for over ten years. Most of his volunteer work has been with his church, but the last three or four years have been with Ag United.
“Farmers produce an abundance of safe, healthy food, but we know that sometimes that food doesn’t reach those that need it most,” said Rebecca Christman, Outreach Director, Ag United for South Dakota. “This is just a small way that we are able to fight hunger in our community.”
A coalition of farm organizations formed in 2005 with a goal of keeping family farms and ranches growing in South Dakota, Ag United members have been very supportive in volunteering their time. Christman said many volunteers drive an hour or more to help out for the evening. The members are also happy to answer any questions from the guests about farming and what happens on farms today.
Christman recommends other agricultural groups across the nation consider a volunteer opportunity like The Banquet.
“Agriculture is a cornerstone of many communities, and we believe that giving back to the community is important,” Christman said. “Volunteering also helps people see the farm-to-plate connection in a different way when you are literally putting a food product you produce on a plate for someone in need.”
For the farmers who volunteer, the time spent at the Banquet is also an opportunity to connect with the guests and see firsthand how their lifelong career can make a vital difference in someone’s day.
“Best memory is probably the young family that is just looking for a meal, to help them get thru the day, and seeing the happiness and joy that the meal provides for them,” Poppens said.