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UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. – According to the ancient Chinese proverb, if you give a man a fish you will feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish you will feed him for a lifetime.
In a sense, Penn State's Agricultural Student Council, in collaboration with other student organizations, recently accomplished both of these feats.
After nearly three semesters of fundraising, this coalition of students and student-run organizations raised $5,000 in an effort to sponsor the "Gift Ark" with the Heifer Project International. The Gift Ark "helps families start on a journey to fulfill a seemingly impossible dream -- to secure food and a source of dependable income."
The Gift Ark is comprised of 15 pairs of animals ranging from dairy cows and sheep to goats, chickens and even camels. These pairs are distributed across the globe to various impoverished or disaster-stricken communities, and each family that receives livestock will pass on one or more of the animal's offspring to other families in need throughout their community.
In theory, every pair of animals will reproduce for years to come, not only providing food, but a consistent source of income.
According to Robin Bechtel, a senior Animal Sciences major from Martinsburg, Pa., the recipients of each pair of livestock are given not only a "gift" animal and an accompanying breeding animal, but more importantly they are taught the foundations of proper animal husbandry.
"These families are taught to raise the animal and then give the offspring to their neighbor," she said. "This cycle should continue to multiply and hopefully create a self-sustaining community."
The Heifer Project International, a nonprofit charitable organization based in Little Rock, Ark., was founded in 1944 by Daniel West. A farmer and relief worker stationed in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, West became frustrated with the lack of food aid and livestock available to the communities he visited. Upon returning to the United States, West established the Heifer Project by sending the first shipment of livestock to Puerto Rico.
Lester Griel, professor of veterinary science, who is program coordinator for the Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences and the Animal Bioscience programs at Penn State, remembers how the Gift Ark initiative got started in the College of Agricultural Sciences.
"It only takes a spark to get a fire going," he said. "My recollection of the development of this project begins with the initial officers meeting of the Pre-Vet Club for the 2007-08 academic year. Lauren Aldinger, the elected vice president for the year, came back to school very enthusiastic about getting the club involved in a fundraising effort to assist other countries. This was based on experiences that she had the previous summer that involved Heifer Project International."
Aldinger, a Palmyra, Pa., native who currently is a second-year student at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, convinced the club leadership to begin fundraising efforts to make a contribution to the Heifer project.
"After a few months, this was expanded to involve more student organizations in the college," Griel said. "The funds that the Pre-Vet Club had raised to that point were transferred to Ag Student Council, and all student organizations that became involved channeled the funds to the Ag Student Council treasury with the goal of reaching the $5,000 (mark)."
The "Gift Ark" fundraising effort grew to include nearly a dozen student clubs, fraternities and sororities at Penn State. Led by Bechtel, Justin Valentine, a junior Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences major from Tamaqua, Pa., and Deidre Hepler, a junior Agricultural Science major from Pitman, Pa., the project accumulated the majority of its revenue through various fund-raising events, including spaghetti dinners.
"This project supports agriculture in underdeveloped areas. It directly impacts so many cultures, and since so many of these organizations share ties through agricultural clubs, it made sense to pursue the effort," said Bechtel.
Although the fundraising project was a long-term endeavor, Bechtel hopes future Penn State students will continue to support the Heifer Project.
"It was a fun experience," she said. "It is a great cause both in the immediate and in the long run. These families get a sense of pride establishing a consistent livelihood, and the community benefits from food and developing sources of income."