A LESSON IN GIVING BACK: In raising turkeys for dinner, EH student also raises awareness

Eastern Hancock junior Bella Witte tends to her fattened turkeys. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — At the 14th annual Lisa Muegge Feast of Plenty this Thanksgiving, approximately 110 turkeys will be served. More than two dozen of them will be donated by Bella Witte, a junior at Eastern Hancock High School who has put to use her experience in 4-H and FFA to help feed those in need of a holiday meal.

Bella initially became involved in the Feast of Plenty through the Hancock County 4-H Club’s Blue Ribbon Bunch, which donates bags of groceries at the Thanksgiving event each year. Participating in that, she said, made her realize she could make a larger contribution.

“I realized that I should do more and use my skills and opportunities that I have living on a farm,” Bella said.

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The Feast of Plenty, open to all members of the Hancock County community, served approximately 1,600 meals in 2018. All food served at the event is donated, much of it by local businesses and 4-H families.

In 2018, Bella donated 10 turkeys to the Feast of Plenty. This year, she has stepped up her efforts, more than doubling the number of donated birds.

Bella is raising 34 turkeys this year, 25 of which will be donated to the Feast of Plenty. While she incurs most of the expenses of caring for them herself, she said she received several donations to help pay for the birds’ food.

“This year, we had several community donations. I am so thankful for that,” Bella said.

Another change this year is that the turkeys intended for donation also served as a learning opportunity. Eastern Hancock Middle School students helped raise the birds to maturity. Bella said students learned from the experience about the practicalities of caring for animals that are being raised as food as well as about the value of donating time and labor for a community event.

Diana Arellano, the agriculture instructor at Eastern Hancock High School and Middle School, partnered with Bella on the project as part of a Supervised Agricultural Experience, an FFA initiative that helps students gain practical experience in an agriculture-related career. Arellano said the learning experience benefited both Bella and the middle school students.

“It’s been really a neat project for the agriculture kids,” she said.

Each of Arellano’s four agriculture classes helped to raise a turkey of its own, choosing its name, monitoring its weight and helping feed it and monitor its health. Arellano said the students in her classes had varying levels of previous experience with raising animals. Though some of them bonded with the turkeys they were raising, she said, they understood that they were being raised for a good cause.

Arellano said Bella is “an awesome kid” and was a good role model for the middle school students during the experience.

“She has a heart to serve,” Arellano said. “She’s such a wonderful kid.”

Bella said she enjoys contributing to the Feast of Plenty because it is a unique form of community outreach.

“It really is a sense of community. Not only is it providing a meal, it’s also providing a sense of belonging,” Bella said.

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The Feast of Plenty will take place at the Hancock County 4-H Exhibit Hall from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. This year’s menu will include turkey and dressing, mashed and sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, rolls and desserts.