Alumni unite to fight food insecurity among students

by | Dec 27, 2017

With a number of UMSL students struggling with food insecurity, a group of graduates hope to change the statistics.
Snack pack drive

A group of volunteers assembled 200 complete and 100 partial snack packs for UMSL’s Triton Hunger Relief Fund on Dec. 9 in Anheuser-Busch Hall. The event was co-sponsored by the Alumni Association Governing Board and Business Alumni Chapter. (Photo by Sara Bell)

One of Ryan Davis’ most vivid memories from his first week of college isn’t the walk to his inaugural class, an orientation event or meeting new friends – it’s coming home with an $80 grocery bill.

And from what the University of Missouri–St. Louis alumnus remembers, that $80 didn’t get him very far. Ramen noodles, condiments, tuna and a few snacks were the only items he brought back to stock his small pantry.

This introduction to college life is not unique. In fact, if you talk to two UMSL students, chances are one of them can recall an instance in the last year when they were without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

This concerning state known as food insecurity is prevalent on college campuses, and UMSL students know the issue all too well as half of the student population experienced some form of food insecurity in the last year.

Robin Kimberlin, a senior program manager in UMSL’s Division of Student Affairs, presented on the problem to the UMSL Alumni Association Governing Board earlier this fall, which served as a rallying cry for members of the group.

Shortly after hearing the troubling statistics, the board paired with the UMSL Business Alumni Chapter for a snack pack drive, an effort to benefit the university’s Triton Hunger Relief Fund.

During the past few months, the organizations called on other alumni to donate or shop for snack pack kits, which consisted of chicken salad, microwavable macaroni and cheese, granola bars, peanut butter crackers and trail mix.

Then, on Dec. 9, a group of volunteers gathered in Anheuser-Busch Hall for what they estimated would be a two-hour assembly process. But more than 20 eager volunteers showed up and completed 200 full and 100 partial kits in less than 20 minutes.

“We have amazing, engaged alumni who are willing to go above and beyond,” said Stacy McMurray, president of the Alumni Association Governing Board. “The board said, ‘OK, we don’t just want a presentation. What can we do? We want to take action.’ We wanted to make sure there were various opportunities for people to give time, talent and treasure. This is the product of that.”

Two notable alumni, who are also directors on the alumni governing board, expanded the fundraising efforts outside of the UMSL community by uniting their co-workers and employers.

Criminology and criminal justice alumnus Mark Reichert rallied his colleagues at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The group gathered enough contributions to fill 50 snack packs.

Davis, a 2012 graduate of the College of Business Administration, was also a lead donor and utilized Scottrade’s matching gift program for additional funding.

“This issue hits close to home,” Davis said. “I was one of those students who struggled with food insecurity at times. I was always working, but just because you’re working doesn’t mean you have money there to go buy a nice steak dinner. I know how hard it is to study and focus if you don’t have a fridge full of food. It was very relatable to me, so I wanted to help.”

Alumna Quahana Hendree, who attended the December packing event, also related to the cause as she sustained an ankle injury during college, which for a time left her reliant on family and friends to deliver food to her room. She says that experience alone provided enough motivation for her to help other Tritons have more reliable access to food.

“Anything we can do to make it easier for them to focus on education, which is their job, then I am all for that,” Hendree said.

While those passionate about the project are pleased with the response to this first drive, alumni leaders are aware the effort provides only temporary relief. The boards are planning another drive in the spring and considering additional ways to combat food insecurity on campus.

“I think what’s really important is that we don’t want this to be a one-time effort,” McMurray said. “It certainly is not a problem we want to have, but it’s not a one-time effort.”

The UMSL Experience

Sara Bell

Sara Bell