SALT LAKE CITY — Those freshly shaven, carefully primped and neatly preened animals seen this summer at county fairs throughout northern Utah were put to good use Saturday.
More than 92,000 pounds of processed lamb, beef and pork was sorted by the hands of dozens of volunteers at the Utah Food Bank, some of whom actually raised the animals themselves earlier this year.
"You learn a lot of things," said Lauren Davis, a 4-H member whose family helped rear a lamb on their ½-acre lot in Kaysville. "It was a lot of work. We trained him. You have to have a good rapport with the animal to do that. You have to teach him to be obedient. And they have to build muscle."
It took getting up early to feed, water and walk the animal 30 minutes every day. The Davis family's lamb, Wooly, reached 119 pounds before it sold to corporate and private food bank donors at the Davis County Fair in August.
The kids got to know the lamb quite well and even read books to him on occasion. They spent all summer with him, showed him at the fair, auctioned him off and "watched him walk away," said Andrea Davis, Lauren's mom.
"I'm so excited to see this connection at the end, to see that this is going to needy families," Andrea Davis said. The service component, she said, is yet another benefit of their summer project, which helped her children develop a sense of responsibility and stronger work ethic.
Lauren received $420 for her lamb, $150 of which may cover the cost of purchasing another young animal in May. The rest was spent on school registration.
Kevin Kessler, director of the Utah 4-H program, said that while the money is nice, it isn't why kids and their families get involved.
"The 4-H program is one of the top youth development programs in the world," he said, adding that kids who get involved in 4-H are more likely to go to college and get good grades, and less likely to engage in risky or delinquent behaviors.
"The thing about the 4-H program is it builds kids," Kessler said, adding that the tens of thousands of pounds of meat resulting from the hardworking kids, however, helps families in need.
"It is one thing to get boxed and canned goods, but to get meat is often difficult and expensive for us," said Ginette Bott, chief development director at the Utah Food Bank. She said the donated 4-H meat provides much-needed protein for many families.
The high-quality meat is processed at a reduced rate by local processing plants, then sorted and boxed up by volunteers, and distributed by the food bank's 130 partnering agencies throughout the state. Those emergency food pantries are responsible for providing food and other items to Utah families in need.
Bott said the processed meat will go back to the counties where the animals were originally raised and purchased, including Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, Wasatch, Morgan, Millard and Tooele counties in Utah, and Uinta County in Wyoming.
Last year, the Utah Food Bank distributed 36.3 million pounds of food and goods, making approximately 28.4 million meals for families and individuals throughout the state.
Still, one in five Utah children goes without food on a daily basis, according to Kelly Maxfield, Utah Food Bank board chairman.
"That's a statistic I'm not OK with," he said. "Adults may make that choice to go without food for one reason or another, but kids don't make that choice."
Maxfield helped start the 4-H purchased meat program in 2005, with what was intended as a one-time donation of a couple hundred pounds of meat from the Farmington 4-H Club. The now-annual event has garnered more than 761,000 pounds of meat in the past eight years.
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