Let the Sweet Potatoes Roll!
In Southern Louisiana, one often hears the Cajun expression, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” – “Let the good times roll!” But on the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge, it’s a good time when the sweet potatoes roll at the annual sweet potato drop. They roll in on a truck, get bagged up by a large number of student volunteers, and they roll out in agency trucks, vans, and trailers to feed the hungry across the southern part of the state. Andy Lemmon, our Mississippi and Arkansas Program Coordinator tells us the story:
I look at our Annual Sweet Potato Crop Drop at Louisiana State University and I see growth … growth from last year’s event, and potential for even more growth, next year and the next.
I started my position at the Mississippi and Arkansas Regional Coordinator in March 2016 and the LSU Crop Drop in April was my first large event. It basically ran itself because it had terrific support from the Baton Rouge Food Bank and the Kitchens on The Geaux Student Group. In 2016, our event had a large number of volunteers and distributed 16,000+ pounds of sweet potatoes. In 2017, our event had an equally good turnout for volunteers and distributed 19,000+ pounds of sweet potatoes at the same event, in the same place, at the same time.
Here’s how it grew: first, our dump truck company provided a larger truck at a reduced rate for hauling the sweet potatoes to the drop site. Second, our farmer said he would fill up whatever size truck showed up at his farm the day before the event. So we started out with more food and no additional costs. And third, our partnerships flourished.
Here’s where it gets great: Kitchens on The Geaux, the Baton Rouge Food Bank, and Society of St. Andrew collaborated not only to plan the event for 2017 but also to strategize specific ways to improve the effectiveness, coming up with a few logistical improvements. We had the food bank deliver pallets and bins before the event so they would be set up before volunteers arrived. We also decided to involve more members of the community – the most important part of our growth.
Every year, we look back at our events and numbers and strategize ways to extend our reach without adding substantially more costs. Our best improvement was involving a few extra community agencies like men’s shelters and food pantries to directly pick up the food from the event. This resulted in less work for everyone involved and reduced expenses for the food bank and frontline agencies.
All it required was a willingness to work together and a bit of time to plan ahead. SoSA and its partners do not compete for fame or victory. They collaborate to ensure that hungers are met and those in need succeed. We know these can be achieved only when everyone is listening and willing to work together.
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As they can now say in Louisiana, “Laissez les patates douces rouler!” – Let the sweet potatoes roll!