Palmetto FFA gets 'powerful lesson' about sharing at food pantry

PALMETTO -- Denise Brink drives her motorized wheelchair a mile to Church of Hope Community Food Pantry and Clothes Closet in Palmetto to get staples like flour, sugar, cereal, macaroni, apples and lettuce.

On Tuesday, she got quite a surprise.

Volunteers at the pantry at 1701 10th St. W., where clients just have to sign in to get donations from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday, had also packaged 2 pounds of frozen top-grade hamburger. She and more than 200 other needy families received the beef from a company-school partnership.

The Mosaic Co. returned a steer to the Palmetto High FFA it purchased at the Manatee County Fair Steer sale in January to share with the community, said Julie Tillett, FFA adviser and lead agriculture teacher at Palmetto High.

"This was Julie Tillett's idea and we were thrilled to make it possible," said Mosaic spokeswoman Jackie Barron. "This was a powerful lesson for Julie's students. It was a perfect farm-to-table story."

The 20 FFA students not only brought 480 pounds of frozen beef in 240 two-pound packages, but helped set up the entire pantry starting at 7:30 a.m. They held hands with pantry clients at a prayer circle led by church officials just before 10 a.m.

"A lot of our students thanked me afterward for giving them the experience of birth to table and showing them how to spread their wealth and realize their ability to share," Tillett said.

The 1,460-pound steer named Obi Wan was born at Palmetto High in the FFA barn and raised by FFA student Kathy Jo Cole, 17.

Cole said she was overwhelmed Tuesday seeing how Obi Wan's life had come full circle.

"Most people thought I would be upset today, but I'm not seeing that he is feeding 240 people," said Cole, an entrepreneur who started a company called Bow Life whose revenues go toward purchasing FFA jackets for needy classmates.

Cole's grandfather, Jerry Cole, was the Palmetto High principal in the 1980s.

"Kathy Jo is a very bright young lady who has a servant's heart," Tillett said. "She's a Golden Herald nominee. We are so blessed to have her as a member of FFA. For her to show that enthusiasm that makes her special and gets everyone else excited. Her personality is contagious. She took an ag class and fell in love with it, which makes it more special."

As they usually do, the Palmetto High FFA volunteers, including President Aubrey Rife, were like a black-T-shirt-clad tornado going through the pantry, bagging dry goods, bread, sweets, hamburger, dairy and fruit and vegetables.

"How precious it is when brethren dwell together in unity," Church of Hope pantry volunteer Ed Gough said. "It's awesome. We are so blessed that the students and Mosaic would help us."

Both Brink, who is disabled, and Karen Newcomb said they were grateful for the meat.

"It helps me a lot," Newcomb said. "I'm a single person on a fixed income. After I pay my bills, I'm broke."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.