Bald Eagle FFA fights hunger with gala


WINGATE — Part of the FFA Code of Ethics is to “make a positive difference in the lives of others.” The FFA Chapter at Bald Eagle Area is working hard to fulfill that goal in a meaningful way – by fighting hunger.

The chapter’s latest effort to alleviate hunger in Centre County was put forth May 18, when the FFA sponsored A Catered Affair. It was a gala event, attended by 108 guests, not counting FFA students and parent volunteers.

The planning process for the event takes about a year, according to Todd Biddle, Bald Eagle FFA advisor and Ag Science instructor.

Money from ticket sales, and the money earned through a silent auction, will provide funds to help fight hunger in a variety of ways. The majority of the donations will be given to the Centre County Backpack Program, which sends nutritious snacks home with students each Friday, for use over the weekend.

The Bald Eagle FFA Chapter has already donated $3,230 to the backpack program this past school year. Three hundred and eighty-eight items have also been donated to food pantries.

This second annual event was held at the picturesque Robbins Paradise Ranch in Julian, who graciously donated their facilities for the cause. It was a perfect warm spring evening, with a few elk even wandering in the fields near the ranch.

The Landry Four, composed of BEA students Jake Bloom, Anton Fatula, Jake Michael, and Tony Talarigo – who are also members of the BEA Jazz Band – provided jazz and improvisation music, adding to the atmosphere. White lights twinkled in the ceiling. The portico was lined with tables holding delicacies in elegant displays. Patrons sampled a large array of savory appetizers and luscious desserts. A winery and brewery offered tastings for the adult attendees.

One of the food samples was a salad made primarily from food grown by the students in the BEA Ag classroom. Micro greens seeds were grown in soil, under artificial light. After growing for only three weeks, the young kale, kohlrabi, red cabbage, and sunflower plants were then harvested, and added to cucumbers and tomatoes, for a “different” type of salad.

This was another way to get students more involved with the event, according to Biddle, and also to teach students about urban agriculture and how food can be grown in your house.

Biddle says even the event, itself, is a learning experience, as it teaches students what a formal event is like.

Almost every aspect of the evening was donated, including the table centerpieces. These were unique handmade planters – ceramic white rabbits in realistic poses – filled with live strawberry plants. The planters were created by parent volunteer, Terri Eagles.

This gala event, which takes a massive amount of work on the part of many people, started out with noble, but humble, beginnings.

After learning about the FFA Hunger Challenge in June 2015, FFA student Mason Finocchio, of Howard, decided to use it as his required Supervised Agricultural Experience project. Finocchio, now a junior at Bald Eagle High School and an HVAC student at CPI, says the anti-hunger efforts began with canning, at the State College Spikes baseball games, for donations to local food banks.

Then, Finocchio says, “it just grew, and grew, into this,” as he gestures toward all the surrounding food and festivities.

Finocchio had approached Biddle about having a catered event about two years ago. A $2,500 FFA Food for All grant was written and obtained, with the money being used to raise funds to fight hunger and to educate the community about hunger issues. That’s how A Catered Affair came into being.

It’s a family affair, as Finocchio’s mother, Corinna Anskis, helps him with acquiring the many caterers and business sponsors for the evening. Anskis is glad to help out as a parent volunteer, and says, “We have been very fortunate to get the loyal support from Robbins Paradise Ranch, providing us with such a beautiful scenic venue for the event, from our talented caterers, such as Brown Dog Catering, Kitchen Witch Cafe, Rustic Catering, Pizza Mia, Garfields, Goot Essa, Dolce Vita Desserts, and Edible Arrangements, and from our many, many local businesses with auction donations, etc., and from our FFA members and their families.”

“We really appreciate all of their support,” Anskis continues. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

Entertainment for the evening was provided by Centre Hall native Adam Yarger, a country singer/songwriter who now lives in Nashville.

National FFA LPS Specialist Karen Hutchison was a guest speaker. She spoke about the different ways FFA Chapters across the United States have taken on the FFA’s “Food for All” platform, such as through community gardens. Hutchison added that A Catered Affair was the first fundraising event of this type that she had seen.

“This one’s a great one,” Hutchison said.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Cheryl Cook, gave an informative talk about the role of Pennsylvania agriculture in feeding a growing community. According to Cook, one in eight Pennsylvanians is “food insecure – and that figure goes up for children.”

Moshannon Valley YMCA Director Mel Curtis, who is also the coordinator for their anti-hunger programs, spoke about the Centre County Backpack Program and hunger awareness in Centre County Schools. Curtis presented a plaque from the YMCA of Centre County to Finocchio and the Bald Eagle FFA to thank them for their dedication to anti-hunger efforts.

At the conclusion of the evening, Curtis received two checks for the Centre County Backpack Program. The Bald Eagle FFA presented Curtis with a check for $2,600 – ticket sales for the evening, and will be presenting additional monies to the backpack program after proceeds from the silent auction are tabulated.

Milesburg Lions Club President, Sally Tressler, presented Curtis with a $1,000 check from the Milesburg Lions Club.

The FFA also presented BEA staff member, Barb Bagley, with a $500 check to use for snacks in BEA’s afterschool tutoring program.

The successful and enjoyable evening was a perfect example of many different facets of the community, all pulling together to help others.

Smiling, Finocchio says, “I definitely have plans to do this again next year.”