America’s pig farmers pay it forward

By Darcy Maulsby

Ham by ham, America’s pig farmers paid it forward during the holiday season with the second annual #HamsAcrossAmerica campaign. The event inspires farmers and others involved in the pork industry to show their appreciation for friends, family and neighbors through gifts of ham or through donations of ham or ham-based products.

“Pork producers are always willing to roll up their sleeves and help when there’s a need,” said National Pork Board President Terry O’Neel, Friend, Nebraska. “I see how this makes a difference in my community, and I encourage other farmers to get involved locally.”

When pig farmers introduced the We CareSM ethical principles nearly 10 years ago, it was important that five of the six ethical principles were production related, O’Neel said.

“For the sixth and final ethical principle, there was no question that it should address contributing to a better quality of life in the communities we call home,” O’Neel said. “Giving back also plays a powerful role in building and maintaining consumers’ trust.”

The 2017 #HamsAcrossAmerica campaign built on last year’s effort, when the Pork Checkoff shared stories on social media of nearly 33,000 hams and pork products donated by pig farmers to those in need in their local communities. During this holiday season, people again shared how they paid it forward on #RealPigFarming and on #HamsAcrossAmerica.

The National Pork Board, the Iowa Pork Producers Association, Smithfield Foods, Inc. and PrairieFresh® Premium Pork joined forces in Iowa to kick off the 2017 #HamsAcrossAmerica campaign in Des Moines, Iowa, on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. The day is dubbed Giving Tuesday, which Americans celebrate as an opportunity to give back.

Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie, Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) CEO Pat McGonegle and IPPA President Curtis Meier (right to left) pay it forward at the kickoff for #HamsAcrossAmerica by serving clients of the Central Iowa Shelter and Services.

 70,000 Pounds of Pork

The organizations served clients of the Central Iowa Shelter and Services and provided a pork donation of nearly 70,000 pounds to the Food Bank of Iowa, courtesy of Smithfield Foods, Seaboard Foods, Triumph Foods and U.S. pig farmers.

“As pig farmers, giving back to our communities always has been an integral part of who we are,” said Bill Tentinger, a pig farmer from Le Mars, Iowa, who serves on the boards of the National Pork Board and the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

“This kickoff event allowed me and other farmers to live the We Care ethical principles and share our love of the product that we produce,” he said.

Dennis Pittman, senior director of hunger relief for Smithfield Foods, said, “Smithfield was proud to participate in Giving Tuesday with the National Pork Board and support the positive impact it provides for so many of our neighbors in need. As a global food company with Iowa- based facilities, #HamsAcrossAmerica aligns with Smithfield’s commitment to resolve hunger across the country and to cater to the communities we call home.”

Terry Holton, Seaboard Foods president and CEO said, “On behalf of all those in our connected food system at Seaboard Foods and Triumph Foods who raise and care for our pigs and produce pork for the PrairieFresh® brand, we understand the importance of supporting our communities whether that be someone next door in Iowa or a world apart. With #HamsAcrossAmerica, we were honored to share our products so others might enjoy delicious, wholesome meals this holiday season.”

Iowa Secretary of Ag Bill Northey delivers breakfasts with a smile to clients of the Central Iowa Shelter and Services.

The Need Is Great

Americans who struggle to avoid hunger – food insecure – underscore that the need for nutritious pork and other food is great, said Claire Masker, director of public relations for the Pork Checkoff.

“In Iowa alone, one in eight people is food insecure, with a fifth of children not having enough to eat.”

The statistics regarding hunger also are sobering for America as a whole, said Jeanette Merritt, director of Checkoff programs for Indiana Pork, whose members donated more than 750 hams for the holiday season’s #HamsAcrossAmerica.

“It’s hard to understand that one in six people in our country faces hunger,” Merritt said. “That’s about 41 million people, including 13 million kids. Indiana Pork is proud of all of our farmers who spearhead efforts to put an end to hunger in their communities.”

The sentiment is shared by producers across the country, said O’Neel, adding “Giving back to our communities is who we are.”

Tipton, Indiana, producer Keith Schoettmer agrees. Over 20 years, he has donated pork sausage to the town’s St. John the Baptist Catholic Church for the congregation’s monthly sausage breakfasts. He’s quick to point out, though, that the real credit should go to someone else.

“Two brothers, both in their 70s, harvest the pigs, grind the sausage and do the cooking,” said Schoettmer, who was the 2015 America’s Pig Farmer of the YearSM. “I’m just happy to help the community.”

This fits with Schoettmer’s core values of doing whatever he and his employees can to assist those around them. Thanks in part to his contributions, the church has served nearly 100 breakfasts in the past 10 years, including more than 8,715 pounds of sausage, 43,262 pancakes and 2,250 dozen eggs.

Through free-will offerings, the church’s breakfasts have raised more than $123,449. The money is donated to local causes to assist those in need.

“It’s good for employee morale to let our team members see our efforts are part of the greater good,” he said. “This also reflects the We Care principle of supporting the community.”

Operation Christmas Meal Shares Pork Loins

As #HamsAcrossAmerica shows, the Christmas season offers a memorable time for friends and loved ones to gather around the dinner table. Iowa Select Farms believes everyone deserves a good meal, especially during the holidays.

That’s why the company has offered Operation Christmas Meal, a pork loin giveaway, for the past seven years. During the 2017 event, Iowa Select gave away 5,000 pork loins to families in need.

“As Iowa farmers and producers, we feel it’s important to take care of families in need, especially those who need a helping hand,” said Jen Sorenson, communications director for Iowa Select Farms.

Since its inception, Operation Christmas Meal has provided more than 21,000 protein-rich Christmas meals to Iowa families. The donations are a gift from the 1,850 families of Iowa Select Farms, along with the Deb and Jeff Hansen Foundation. The foundation has established numerous community and statewide programs designed to make Iowa an even better place to live, Sorenson said.

That commitment is evident year-round. In November 2017, Iowa Select Farms and the Deb and Jeff Hansen Foundation announced the expansion of a program aimed at reducing childhood hunger in Iowa by providing access to nutritious food at home.

The Power Snack™ program, organized and funded by both organizations, is providing thousands of families in need with $5 coupons for sliced or shaved ham and $3 coupons for a loaf of whole-wheat bread. The coupons are being offered four times throughout the 2017-2018 school year to more than 18,000 children identified by their schools as food insecure.

Since the Power Snack program started in 2012, Iowa Select and the Deb and Jeff Hansen Foundation have donated more than one million power snacks to families experiencing food insecurity.

The two organizations are also combating food insecurity through the new Haul Out Hunger program, which included the donation and delivery of 56,220 pounds of fresh pork loins to food pantries throughout Iowa in the summer of 2017.

“It’s especially hard to keep our shelves stocked in the summer,” said JoAnne Vandyne, director of the South Central Iowa Community Action Program (SCICAP) in Wayne County. “We get offerings of canned goods and cereal, but a donation of meat like this – never. We have to buy meat to stock protein in our pantry, which is expensive. This is such a blessing for our small community.”

During the three-week program, Iowa Select Farms employees delivered 28 tons of fresh pork, or 300,000 servings, to help alleviate food insecurity for 11,244 families.

“We’re pleased that the pork loins donated through the 2017 ‘Haul Out Hunger’ program provided nearly 300,000 servings of nutritious protein for Iowa families,” Sorenson said.

Indiana pig farmer Mark York leads a group of Manchester High School FFA students in attaching recipe cards to packages of ground pork.

Indiana Pork Producers Roll Up Their Sleeves

Keeping dinner plates full is important to America’s pig farmers, who often spearhead local campaigns to give back to their communities. Case in point is efforts undertaken by Indiana pork producers.

Mark York, an Indiana pig farmer and Wabash County Farm Bureau president, worked with his fellow producers this fall to donate more than 1,800 pounds of ground pork to local food banks and community pantries.

This was part of the Farmers Who Care campaign, a Wabash County Farm Bureau program dedicated to helping farmers serve the community. The program began in 2016 when Scott Dawes, a pig farmer and board member for Wabash County Farm Bureau Inc., came up with the idea for pork producers to donate pigs.

More than 32,000 Servings

Through the program, 1-pound packages of ground pork are donated to Wabash County food banks. The program has provided more than 32,000 4-ounce servings of protein to the local food banks and community pantries.

“While we’re involved in the production of food, it’s unfortunate that there are those in our county who are food-deprived,” Dawes said. “This is a way for us to share with our neighbors and help those in need.”

Indiana Pork is proud to support these efforts.

“Indiana pig farmers take their role to help feed their communities very seriously,” said Jeanette Merritt with Indiana Pork. “Many communities benefit from this generosity.”

The Farmers Who Care pork donations help fill a critical gap.

“We serve 153 families a month at our food pantry,” said Deb Morris, director of the Fellowship of Churches Food Pantry in North Manchester, Indiana. “The ground pork will go to help those who need the protein for their families. We’re extremely grateful to Wabash County hog farmers for this donation.”

As part of Farmers Who Care, Wabash County farmers partnered with local Manchester FFA members, who attached recipe cards to the packages of ground pork. Service projects like this are inspiring the next generation of ag leaders to give back to their communities.

“Many people don’t understand agriculture or what farmers do,” said Elizabeth Brown, a Manchester High School sophomore and FFA member. “By helping feed community members in need, we can show people that the farming community cares for them.”

“As pig farmers, giving back to our communities always has been an integral part of who we are.”

– Bill Tentinger, Le Mars, Iowa

Smithfield Foods Helps Alleviate Hunger

Pork is also helping alleviate hunger coast to coast through Smithfield Foods’ annual Helping Hungry Homes® program. During the 2017 nationwide donation tour this fall, Smithfield provided large-scale protein donations to nearly 60 food banks across the country. Here are highlights of Smithfield Foods’ 2017 efforts to help Americans become more food secure.

• Feeding South Florida®. The time was right for Smithfield Foods to team up with Publix supermarkets this fall to donate more than 38,000 pounds of protein to Feeding South Florida®. The donation is benefiting the 710,370 people fighting hunger in South Florida – a battle recently amplified following Hurricane Irma. Smithfield supported response efforts to aid people impacted by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey. “We’re incredibly grateful to Smithfield for this considerable contribution, which will go a long way in helping families across our region,” said Paco Vélez, president and CEO of Feeding South Florida®. “We’re at a critical time in South Florida’s recovery, and hunger- relief efforts are essential, especially protein items when non-perishables are the staple.” Smithfield will continue its active role in the fight against hunger in America, said Dennis Pittman, senior director of hunger relief for Smithfield Foods. “It is our hope that by providing these donations of wholesome protein, we will keep the dinner plates
and hearts of those we serve full for weeks to come.”

• Foodbank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (CENC). Smithfield Foods joined forces with Harris Teeter, a regional grocery chain, to donate nearly 40,000 pounds of protein to the Foodbank of Central and CENC. The donation, equivalent to nearly 160,000 servings, helped those fighting hunger in the Wilmington, North Carolina, area, where one in six individuals is food insecure. “We are continually grateful for Smithfield’s Helping Hungry Homes relief efforts within our communities,” said Peter Werbicki, president and CEO of the Food Bank of CENC. “These considerable donations provide nutritious protein, an always-in-demand item for food banks and a crucial element for a balanced diet.”

• Oregon Food Bank. Smithfield Foods worked with WinCo Foods to donate more than 40,000 pounds of protein to the Oregon Food Bank. The donation, equivalent to more than 170,000 servings, will help people across Oregon and Clark County, Washington, where one in five
individuals is food insecure. “We are thankful to Smithfield for this donation of high-quality protein to Oregon Food Bank and its partner agencies,” said Diane Letson, director of retail partnerships for Feeding America. “This donation will ensure that many families are able to eat balanced, nutritious meals.”

• Greater Berks Food Bank, Pennsylvania. Smithfield Foods and Weis Markets donated more than 37,000 pounds of protein to the Greater Berks Food Bank, which supplies food to food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, afterschool programs and senior programs that feed the hungry in Berks and Schuylkill Counties. The pork donation is equivalent to more than 150,000 servings. “Protein is an in-demand, yet limited resource, for food banks, and it’s essential to support a well-balanced diet,” said Peg Bianca, executive director of the Greater Berks Food Bank. “We’re thankful to Smithfield and Weis for this large-scale donation, which will help provide hunger relief and wholesome meals to thousands in our community.”