4-H’ers build Little Food Pantries, raised gardens to place around county

In a muddy, 40-degree environment, a teenager played the role of a woman with a baby who lives in a dirt urban slum.

All they had to eat were carrots, and she had to find other food to feed all of the members of a Guatemalan village and start a fire so they could eat.

The most difficult part was having to beg people to give her food.

“I was like, ‘Really? You have enough to give me more. Why don’t you just give me more because we’re going to starve,'” Taylor Loudermilk said. “I thought for sure we were going to go to bed hungry. It was a good-sized meal, but it wasn’t anything like you have when you go out to any restaurant.”

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Fortunately for the Brownstown Central High School sophomore, this was just a simulation of a poverty-stricken area at a camp. It was not real life.

In the spring, Loudermilk, her older sister, Sydney Loudermilk, and Kirsten Raisor attended the five-day camp at Heifer International’s Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas.

The nonprofit organization sets up the camp and recreates a village in a third-world country. There are huts that represent the slums found in different countries, and the youth are split into teams and sleep in those slums overnight. The people in each hut are given materials, and there isn’t enough food for the village to survive.

They have to trade with other people so everyone can eat, but there isn’t enough food to feed everybody at night and the following morning.

The activities demonstrate to the campers that it’s OK to ask for help.

That led the three girls, who are all Jackson County 4-H members, to create a new project for the 2019-20 program year called Hunger Elimination Leadership Program, or H.E.L.P.

Their first project was building five Little Food Pantries and five raised gardens. The pantries are similar to Little Free Libraries but are for food instead of books, and people can take what they need and also donate items. The raised gardens are vegetable gardens that can be reused.

On July 11 outside the 4-H building at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Brownstown, volunteers helped the girls during a community build day.

Using materials that were all donated, the wooden structures were assembled so they could be displayed outside the 4-H building during the Jackson County Fair, which starts Sunday and runs through July 27.

H.E.L.P. will have a booth inside the 4-H building, where people can share ideas of where to put the Little Food Pantries and write down names of people who could benefit from a raised garden.

Their goal is to put the Little Food Pantries where there isn’t easy access to the larger food pantries.

“We’re going to want to put them in areas where they are more sparse,” said Sydney, a senior at Brownstown Central High School. “We’re going to focus on some of those other areas, and we’re looking for suggestions of areas if anybody wants to offer to have it near their house or if they have a business where they can keep an eye on it.”

The Little Food Pantries are painted orange on the outside and red inside; have a door on the front, a sloped metal roof on top and a wooden post; and contain two shelves to stock.

During the fair, people are encouraged to bring nonperishable items and place them in the food pantries. That way, they will be fully stocked when the girls place them around the county.

“That’s a community event, and I think they’ll really bring cans to the fair to donate,” Taylor said. “I think they’ll be able to hold a lot of food, and they’ll be able to fit blankets if somebody decides to donate blankets in the winter, let’s say.”

The 2-by-4-foot raised gardens are filled with plants Sydney has been growing for the last two months, including squash, tomatoes, lettuce and small eggplants. Based on fairgoers’ suggestions, the gardens will be given to five people to take home at the end of the fair.

While visiting the H.E.L.P. booth, people also will see wooden 4-H clovers with donors’ names on them. The green level sponsors donated up to $99, while the gold level sponsors donated $100 or more.

Sydney began seeking donations in mid-June and within two weeks had more than $800 in materials and $1,200 in cash.

“That covered everything by far,” she said. “People are very receptive to this idea of adding a community service project to 4-H, and I think they were really interested to see because they know how dedicated 4-H’ers are to their projects, so I think they were really interested to see what they would do with it.”

The donors were Brownstown Central FFA, vegetable seed; Jackson County 4-H Council, cash; Randy and Brenda Darlage, lumber; Star Consulting, cash; Brownstown Hardware, potting soil; Illustrated Sign Co., sign; Lucas-Ackerman Supply Co., plywood; Walmart, cash; and Carpet One, Goecker Building Supply and Sherwin-Williams, materials.

The girls also appreciate the volunteers who helped build the Little Food Pantries and raised gardens.

“The support of everybody who came out here has absolutely made the project into what it is that we’re building right now and what it is that it’ll become and what the public will see at the fair,” Sydney said.

“Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this, we wouldn’t have been able to get it done, these wouldn’t have been built, so everybody out here is really making a difference in the project and making an impact in the community,” she said.

Now, they are ready to see how the Little Food Pantries and raised gardens help the community fight hunger.

“A lot of people want to help people, but they don’t know how to. I’m really glad that we get to try and help in this way, and I really hope it helps people,” Taylor said.

“The thought of knowing that there are people out there that don’t know where their next meal is coming from really makes me incredibly thankful for my position in life and how I’ve been raised and where I’ve been raised,” Sydney said. “It has really made me open my eyes to count the blessings that I have, and it makes me want to help those other people and do what I can to try to improve their situation.”

H.E.L.P. doesn’t stop there. The girls are excited to see what projects are to come.

Throughout the 2019-20 program year, Sydney said she will work with Heather VonDielingen, the 4-H youth development educator in the county, to schedule activity days to get 4-H’ers involved and gain their interest in coming up with projects to do.

Building a Little Food Pantry and a raised garden will be among the project options listed in the 4-H handbook.

“This is just the start,” Sydney said. “It’s my hope that I can take this all the way up to the state (4-H office) and affect all 92 counties in Indiana and reach tens of thousands of more people.”

Erin Harris, the mother of the Loudermilk siblings, said she’s proud of the girls’ work to establish H.E.L.P.

“What I like about it is that they have learned at this age that they can do something that’s sustainable, that it keeps going bigger than what they are,” Harris said. “That’s really the key because it’s really cool to do something on their own. That’s great. That’s fantastic. That’s generous. That’s good. That’s kind. And if they can do something that keeps going beyond them, it multiplies into magic.”

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At the Jackson County Fair from Sunday to July 27, people are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items to the 4-H building and place them in Little Food Pantries.

While at the Hunger Elimination Leadership Program booth, people can write down suggestions on where to place the five Little Food Pantries in the county.

Fairgoers also can suggest names of people who could benefit from receiving one of five raised gardens.

For information about the Hunger Elimination Leadership Program, or H.E.L.P., call 812-358-6101. The new Jackson County 4-H program was created by 4-H’ers Sydney Loudermilk, Taylor Loudermilk and Kirsten Raisor.