Students give time at Central Missouri Food Bank
Sep 25, 2009
Gabrielle Lipton of The Maneater
In the mind of 8-year-old Will Nickolaus, $11.12 meant a used video game from Slackers. But his plans for how to spend his pocket money changed upon learning $20 could provide 400 pounds of food to the hungry.
His video game could instead provide 222.4 pounds of food. Going to the Central Missouri Food Bank not only inspired Nickolaus to donate the money he had in his pocket during his first visit, but during the following eight weeks, he raised $111.04 more to give to the cause.
MU students are past the young age in which walking up and down neighborhood streets with a pretzel container asking for donations — as Will did — seems noble and trustworthy. But they don’t think giving back is the sole responsibility of churches and millionaires, as demonstrated by their time given to the Central Missouri Food Bank.
From Greek students and Freshman Interest Groups to football players and volunteers, students have long been helping the food bank increase its ability to feed hungry Missouri citizens. Serving 32 counties and feeding 92,000 people per month, the food bank moved 21,705,124 pounds of food last year, said Mike DeSantis, marketing coordinator at the Central Missouri Food Bank.
This was not without the help of 16,891 volunteers, and DeSantis said he has seen students of all sorts contribute to this growing number of helpers.
“The MU football team comes here every year — those guys are big,” DeSantis said. “Some groups are regulars — we have entire groups that come every Tuesday. We have some people come in and they only do it once, and that’s great. If you do it once, you’re still helping.”
One of the Tuesday groups is MU business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi.
“This is my second semester as an active member, but coming here has always been really consistent,” junior Jamie Brady said. “When we are interviewing new pledges, we always mention the food bank. One of the main things we try to aim for are our service hours.”
And with the economy, volunteers are appreciated more than ever. Situational poverty is highly prevalent as people who normally have steady incomes are losing their jobs due to recession and therefore find themselves in unexpectedly tough situations.
“Last month, at our pantry we shared food with 9,800 people,” DeSantis said. “The government has a great term called ‘hunger insecurity,’ you’re eating now, but you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. That’s hunger in America.”
More specifically, hunger in the northernmost 12 counties in Missouri — and Boone County in particular — is experienced most by the elderly. With the burden of high medicinal costs, purchasing food becomes a struggle.
“These are people who have worked all of their lives and now they have to choose, and it’s hard,” DeSantis said. “Hunger just looks different anywhere you go.”
Residents are not the only ones counting their pennies. Big food companies have been hit by the recession as well, altering the way they go about their production methods. Food manufacturers are becoming more efficient and less wasteful by focusing more on meeting the consumers’ demand rather than just producing and selling.
“The food bank is always looking for more ways to get food,” DeSantis said.
From MU’s perspective, students donating their time allow the food bank to focus on this goal.
Bryan Goers, graduate assistant at the Office of Leadership Development and Community Involvement, said it is important for volunteers to reflect on their community service and think about what their time spent actually means.
“Yeah, you stuffed hot dogs, and that does not sound fun at all, but what is the result of that?” Goers said. “It means that you’re freeing up the time of the people who work there full time so they can go out and market, go out and work on getting this food to the people it needs to go to rather than if they had to spend that time doing what the volunteers do.”
The relationship between MU and the food bank has proven mutually beneficial. The food bank certainly needs and uses the help of Missouri students, but it also makes volunteering easy to incorporate into a hectic student life.
“I’d say the food bank is one of the easiest to volunteer at,” Goers said.
Only a short drive away, the food bank welcomes volunteers at any time, allowing them to fit service to their hours rather than the opposite.
Volunteers are also welcome at the new Central Pantry location on Big Bear Boulevard, only three miles from campus. The new pantry opened its doors to the public Monday.
Just as Nickolaus gave up his video game, Senior Coordinator for Leadership Development Dave Roberts said the university would like to see more similar actions from their students.
“It would be great if students could spend one less hour a week on Facebook, or playing video games, or hanging out in a friend’s room and instead spend that hour or two doing service,” Roberts said. “The response I always get from students after they have done service is that ‘it was so easy to do.’ ”
DeSantis agrees volunteering at the food bank is not a difficult task.
“I’m sure as you’ve noticed, repackaging food is not brain surgery,” DeSantis said. “Feeding hungry people is difficult precisely because it requires sacrifice. And a lot of help.”
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