Campus food drive focuses on nutrition

| News Editor

The third annual PB&Joy food drive has sharpened its focus on nutrition this year, targeting donation items beyond just peanut butter and jelly to bring in at least 2,000 more pounds of food donations than in the past.

The Community Service Office teams up with a local food bank, Operation Food Search, to run the drive each April in anticipation of the spike in demand for food during the summer, when many children on federal meal programs are left without lunch once the school year is over.

During the drive, which lasted from April 4-16, donation bins were set up at Paws & Go, Millbrook Market, North and West Campuses, and Simon Hall. An online donation page was also created to accept monetary contributions.

While final numbers are not yet available, the Community Service Office reported that they had collected more than 8,300 pounds of food and almost $3,800 in online donations as of Wednesday.

In the past, the drive’s theme of peanut butter and jelly drove most donors to contribute those items, and on-campus markets Paws & Go and Millbrook Market displayed jars of peanut butter and jelly, encouraging students to spend their extra meal points on these items.

This year, both campus markets diversified their displays to include canned chicken, canned tuna, chicken noodle soup and green beans alongside the peanut butter.

According to April Powell, director of marketing & communications for Dining Services, the shift in targeted donation items arose not only from increased attention to children’s nutrition but also from logistical difficulties with sandwich components like bread and jelly donated in the past.

“Unfortunately, those are glass items or really soft items, so we’d have crushed bread and broken jelly, which really creates a mess for Operation Food Search,” she said. “So we decided to target some items and make it a little bit easier for everyone who’s involved… so that we didn’t have those issues this year.”

During this year’s drive, the CSO partnered with other campus organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Campus Kitchen and the Social Justice Center to co-program and broaden the drive’s focus to the issue of poverty and its intersections with hunger and other issues.

“We were happy to get involved with this. It’s very much in line with our own goals,” Kevin Garza, internal president of Campus Kitchen, a student group that prepares and donates meals from leftover food, said. “Hunger among poor kids, especially in St. Louis, is such a big deal. Around 85 percent of kids in St. Louis rely on reduced meal programs during the school year, so without that in place over the summer, they don’t really have many sources to turn to.”

Judy Coyman, food drive coordinator for Operation Food Search, noted the multi-dimensional issues arising from hunger and poverty in America.

“People who are really, really hungry are often, oddly enough, obese…because the cheap food is the really highly processed food,” Coyman said. “And so what we really emphasize…is nutrition and good choices to help combat all the poor health that comes along with hunger.”

LuAnn Oros, community consultant on hunger and homelessness in the CSO and one of the drive’s founders, said she appreciates the increased focus on the deeper problem of hunger in the community this year.

“For me, as somebody who’s kind of a hunger relief advocate, I’m really happy to see this shift not just [to] do emergency measures [but] to end hunger,” she said. “If we’re going to end hunger in America, it’s going to have to be through education, nutrition education, a look back at the way things used to be when everybody had their own garden, everybody shared with their neighbor. I really love the neighbor-to-neighbor approach that we’re advocating through Operation Food Search.”

“We can’t depend on the government forever, and we can’t depend on charitable organizations. That’s not the way to end hunger. It’s a way in the meantime to make sure that nobody is hungry, but it’s about opening your eyes and looking around to make sure that people within your circle of influence are being taken care of,” she added.

Oros said a renewed focus on the underlying causes and realities of childhood hunger became the driving force behind the CSO’s marketing for the drive this year.

“As the years have gone on, we wanted to really focus on children’s hunger and children’s nutrition and now to put the ‘why’ behind it. Very much so this year, we did a lot of, ‘Why do we need to have food drives?’ and ‘Why is there a hunger situation in St. Louis?’” she said.

“A food drive is great. The issue with it is that you can’t ensure that these people are getting good nutrition from it, and you don’t know what they’re getting from it,” Garza said. “We try to help them make decisions for themselves in the future to help them lead a healthier life. It leaves a lasting impact after the drive itself is done because it’s knowledge they take with them—it’s not food that they’ll consume in a week or over the course of the summer.”

Though final donation totals have not yet been calculated, Oros said this year’s drive has been successful in raising awareness on campus about poverty and hunger issues.

“I love the way the University has embraced this, the students have embraced it,” Oros said. “I think it just brings awareness that there really is a hunger situation in most every major city, and St. Louis is no different.”