4-H Members Civic Engagement Initiative Has Statewide Impact
Food insecurity spiked across Connecticut because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UConn 4-H team led and coordinated Operation Community Impact, a grassroots effort to help local families with food insecurity issues intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. The effort also addresses surplus milk issues that negatively impact dairy farms in the state due to the pandemic.
The Litchfield County 4-H program selected Operation Community Impact focusing on food insecurity in the county as their theme for the year in January of 2020—the pandemic made that theme a necessity—and they focused their efforts on dairy products and organized the first milk distribution in March, and then the effort expanded statewide through our 4-H network in April.
The Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) team and others are also instrumental to the success by facilitating connections with food pantries and volunteers. Businesses and partner organizations statewide have donated refrigeration, trucks, and space to facilitate donations.
4-H youth and volunteers facilitated donation and delivery of over 200,000 pounds of dairy products—and counting. They worked with 96 food pantries in 57 towns, serving over 10,710 families. Thousands of hours of volunteer time and services are integral to the success of Operation Community Impact—and many of those volunteers are alumnus of our 4-H program and the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR).
“Over my seven years in 4-H I have been given many cool community service opportunities, but the dairy outreach community project is by far the most influential,” says Madeline Hall, a Litchfield County 4-H member. “It is a huge operation that really helps the community. It is a beautiful sight to see how utterly grateful the pantries and families receiving the milk are. I never knew how many families in Connecticut were in need. I’m so proud to be part of UConn 4-H.”
Madeline, her sister Olivia, and their mom Margaret have volunteered at all 12 donations to date. The Hall family has donated over 1,000 hours of their time to the effort. Margaret Hall has been a 4-H volunteer leader for eight years and leads the Diggity Dogs 4-H Club. She is also a co-leader and helped start the Grow Getters 4-H Horticulture Club this past year.
All eight counties received donations and had 4-H youth participate in the initiative. Litchfield and New London counties continued serving their food pantries through community initiatives that raised funds to purchase milk—and fruit in New London county—to support the local food pantries.
“It reassures me that we have a bright future ahead of us because we have these motivated, hard-working, intelligent, outgoing individuals that come up through the 4-H program,”
says Bill Davenport, the Litchfield County 4-H Educator. “We are excited to get surplus dairy products—in storage because of the pandemic—into the hands of families who are food insecure. Our actions increase awareness of the issue and encourage others to help do the same across Connecticut and the region so that we can help move more milk and dairy products out of the surplus and into the refrigerators of people who desperately need it.”
Article by Stacey Stearns