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IU Northwest News

Students advance a culture of philanthropy on campus

SGA members, staff devote themselves to establishing an on-campus food pantry to help students in need

Wednesday Jan 27, 2016

For those on campus over the past several years, the annual food drive sponsored by the IU Northwest Alumni Association (IUNAA) and Student Alumni Association (SAA) has become a familiar and well-supported call-to-action. The IUNAA’s food bins, placed on campus and at various off-campus locations around Valentine’s Day, have collected thousands of items from the IU Northwest community that have been donated to the Northwest Indiana Food Pantry, benefitting residents throughout our region.

This year’s food drive, aptly named “Have a heart, do your part,” will expand its reach to assist the most important members of the campus community – students.

Members of the Student Government Association (SGA) and a group of IU Northwest staff members who work closely with students recently established an on-campus food pantry for IU Northwest students in need.  Located in the Moraine Student Center, the contents of the food pantry are set for initial distribution within the next few weeks.

It may come as a surprise to many that there are students on IU Northwest’s campus, as well as on many other college campuses across the U.S., who are food insecure. According to Director of Student Activities Scott Fulk, these students, due to family, financial or personal circumstances, often find themselves without a stable place to live and/or not enough to eat.

 “A lot of students now face a lot of serious issues that were not seen many years ago. Because of these issues, these students could really use a helping hand,” Fulk explained. “We found that there is a trend out there of universities starting food pantries to address this need.”

To lessen the impact of food insecurity for students, Fulk and other IU Northwest staff members, including Jennifer Dennison, Cathy Hall and Sharese Dudley, formed a committee in the summer of 2014 to investigate the possibility of starting an on-campus food pantry. Although the committee collected valuable research on food pantry operations, it has been the hard work of students that has quickly moved the project forward.

Students take ownership of campus food pantry

Anyone who is unclear on the full scope of what philanthropy really means need only look at SGA and Student Alumni Association (SAA) members Victoria Morales and Dee Dotson for clarification. While the SGA as a whole had expressed interest in establishing a campus food pantry, Morales and Dotson through their deep passion for the issue, became the driving force behind the project.

Cognizant of the food pantry IU Kokomo began, Morales and Dotson, had inquired about the possibility of beginning one on the Northwest campus and were directed to Fulk and his committee.  Their efforts have ranged from researching best practices on food distribution and replenishment to soliciting food donations and physically organizing and stocking the pantry.

“Three weeks before Halloween, my sister and I passed out fliers to 75 homes in our subdivision letting people know that we would be coming around on Halloween night to collect food for IU Northwest’s student food pantry, telling them why it was important to us and what it meant to our students,” Morales said. “On Halloween night, we dressed in Campbell’s soup costumes to collect, and ended up gathering 374 pounds of food.”

For Morales, a junior psychology and pre-med student, food collection for those in need was already a cause close to her heart prior to attending IU Northwest. As students at Lake Central High School, she and her sister Alexis, now a freshman at IU Northwest, had friends who were affected by not having enough to eat.  Their response was to begin a food drive at their school to benefit local food pantries.

Dotson, who spent part of her winter break from school stocking and organizing the food pantry, was also spurred to action by her long-term commitment to address the problem of food insecurity.

“My husband is a minister and on Saturdays he has a ministry called ‘Feeding the Homeless Ministry’ on the west side of Chicago. They feed the homeless three meals on that day,” explained Dotson. “And, then, fast forward to my first semester here at IU Northwest when my husband lost his job. Thank goodness our family never went without food, but I can just imagine when I hear of students sleeping in their cars, going without food – I can imagine that could have been me.  That’s my passion.”

KanJam Tournament

According to Dotson and Morales, enthusiasm for the food pantry escalated among the student body a week prior to Philanthropy Week with an on-campus event called KanJam.

The KanJam Tournament was the brainchild of IU Northwest Executive Director of Athletics, Kris Schnatz, who was aware of the popular game being used to collect food for food drives, and collaborated with the SGA and Office of Student Activities to bring it to campus.

“Athletics really wanted to be a part of the Philanthropy Week activities and having a KanJam Tournament with collected canned goods staying on our campus made a lot of sense to me as a way to give back to our students," Schantz said. "KanJam is a fun game growing in popularity on the East and West Coasts and something, I thought, that could be used as a cool tie-in with a canned food drive."

The Office of Athletics designed a 40-team double-elimination KanJam Tournament in the Savannah Center gymnasium. The entry fee to the tournament was just four canned food items per team, but students went above and beyond that goal. The campus community collected more than 900 canned food items, with more than 100 students donating items for the cause.

“We made a hard push leading up to the event, and we had a huge buy-in from students,” Schnatz explained. “So we’re hoping that this is going to be an annual event. There’s no doubt about it that we want this to continue as a way to replenish the food pantry.”

According to Fulk, the food pantry is only one example of the growing commitment to philanthropy and the advancement of a "culture of commitment" – giving of one’s time, talent and/or treasure - on the IU Northwest campus.

“I’ve worked at IU Northwest for about 22 years, and you see levels of community engagement go down and then go up and, right now, it’s really at a high and students are being really creative about it,” Fulk said. “The geology club, for example, does a water walk every spring and they donate money to build very simple water pumps in African villages, and the Student Nurses Association holds a 5K run with proceeds going to charity. That doesn’t even count the various clothing drives that have been conducted on campus.”

For more information about the IU Northwest Food Pantry or to make a food donation, please contact the Student Government Association or the Office of Student Activities.

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