Monday, October 29, 2012

VISTAs lead Food Day events on 3 campuses

On October 24, NC Campus Compact VISTAs helped organize Food Day events on several campuses, including Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC, and UNC Wilmington. Their efforts were part of a nationwide campaign to promote healthy, affordable, sustainably-produced local food. In keeping with their focus on food security, these VISTAs coordinated campus and community-wide events to raise awareness about the challenge of food access.

At UNC Wilmington, VISTA Olivia Dorsey helped coordinate and promote a full slate of campus and community events beginning at 8 AM with speeches by Wilmington mayor Bill Saffo and other local officials and ending with evening presentations at a local food co-op, Tidal Creek. A highlight of the day was the "Local Lunch" served at UNCW's dining hall, where students and guests enjoyed local pork chops, collards and other dishes. The diners thus met the Food Day Challenge, eating one meal consisting solely of local foods.

County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield helps proclaim Food Day Wilmington.
Morning workshops by experts highlighted healthy cooking and nutrition, and afternoon panel discussions addressed food insecurity and how local non-profits are working to expend healthy food options for citizens. Both Dorsey and her VISTA supervisor, Dr. Leslie Hossfeld, presented on behalf of Food Day sponsor Feast Down East. Other partners supported the event, including the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC and the Wilmington Housing Authority.

UNCW's Food Day was the culmination of several food-related activities earlier in the week, including an on-campus food drive to support the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC and a screening of the documentary film Food, Inc. at the Lumina Theater.

At Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, VA, VISTA Leah Pallant coordinated three events. Pallant partnered with a campus sustainability organization, Green Team!, to educate students about the amounts of salt, fat, and sugar found in many processed foods. The team provided participants with an "alternative shopping list" that replaced unhealthy items with healthier snacks. Over 150 students in the dining hall took part in a Soda Pour Out Petition, pledging to give up soda for a time. Some of the data collected from the event will be used in the upcoming Hunger Awareness Week.

Mary Baldwin's Food Day concluded with a screening of Food Mythbusters at the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement. Local businesses donated snacks and local food experts, including the Head of Campus Dining Services and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank's community outreach coordinator, led a post-film discussion of local food issues. Pallant reported, "Overall, I was very satisfied with what we pulled together for the day, and I am excited to see what comes together during Hunger Awareness Week."

In Hickory, NC at Lenoir-Rhyne, VISTA Ariel Mitchell helped organized the school's 2nd Annual Hunger Banquet. Seventeen students participated, using their meal plans. When they arrived, each student drew an income bracket at random: high-, middle-, or low-income. Students classified as high-income at the best meal. They had their choice of drinks, a rich spread, and cheesecake for desert. Middle-income participants ate more modestly, and had rice and beans. Students who drew the low-income group ate only rice, drank only water, and sat on the floor.

The manager of the Hickory Soup Kitchen also came to talk to the group about the soup kitchen and what their clients really eat. Students were impressed by his familiarity with clients of the soup kitchen, because he knew many of them by name and told their stories. Students got a chance to ask questions about the Soup Kitchen and the services provided and found out that during the summer, the kitchen serves between thirty and sixty children every day. Mtichell used the opportunity to inform participants of volunteer opportunities with the soup kitchen and other local organizations.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Durham Tech Campus Harvest

Last year, as we began planning an MLK Day of Service on campus, the Durham Tech Student Senate kept turning to me with one question: What are we going to do to help students? Most colleges use their observances of MLK Day to perform service out in the community, but while the students were eager to serve, it was evident that need existed right here on campus. Some of my most dedicated volunteers in my first term of service as a VISTA believed in giving back because they, too, had experienced poverty, homelessness, and hunger, all while working towards improving their lives through education. After much discussion with the planning committee, we settled on a plan of assembling emergency food relief bags and distributing them to students on a first come, first served basis. Students managed to assemble 50 bags with staples such as beans, rice, pasta, oatmeal, and tuna - nothing glamorous, but enough to feed an individual 3 meals a day for a week.

In planning the event, we knew that the bags would go quickly, but we didn't anticipate the size of the response. Our supplies were depleted within 30 minutes, and many more students arrived in the next half-hour to ask if we still had food. After the event, students would occasionally show up to my contact tables asking when the next food distribution would be. It became clear that, although this had been planned as a one-time event, the need on our campus was constant. We began to explore methods of responding in a more permanent, ongoing way to the food insecurity at our school. Through research into programs at other schools and developing relationships with community partners, we have devised a three-pronged approach.

Harvest Tuesday

Volunteers expand the DT Campus Harvest Plot
The Briggs Avenue Community Garden has been an official community partner of Durham Tech since our 50th Anniversary Year of Service. We have worked with them on volunteer workdays and helped them recruit plot owners for the garden.  During the summer 2012, the garden received a grant from Nourishing NC to plant an orchard. As a condition of this grant, they were required to donate a percentage of their produce to hunger relief programs in the area. After bringing our needs on campus to their attention, together we devised a plan to dedicate a new plot in the garden to Durham Tech students, who would grow and harvest produce for their peers in need.

In order to distribute the produce, we turned to Guilford Technical Community College for a model. Guilford Tech has operated a food pantry on its campus since 2008. An on-campus community garden supplies produce for the pantry through Harvest Tuesday. Produce is distributed on a first come, first served basis in the afternoon after a harvest in the morning because they do not have refrigeration to store the produce. Because we already have scheduled garden workdays on Tuesdays and also lack storage, we decided to call our program Harvest Tuesday as well. Since August 21, our program has distributed approximately 125 pounds of produce. We have experienced quite high demand. Although we have been able to serve 61 students to date, many have been turned away as produce supplies are typically exhausted within 20 minutes.

Produce at Harvest Tuesday 

 Veggie Van

Realizing that we could only meet a fraction of the demand for fresh produce on our campus, we sought out the Community Nutrition Partnership (CNP), which was looking to expand their Veggie Van services into Durham. Their program began in Chapel Hill and brings low-cost produce to communities with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It operates much like a CSA, but at a significantly reduced cost. They also accept EBT cards. Each week at their distribution sites, volunteers provide cooking demonstrations, food samples, recipes, and nutrition information on items in the box. CNP is currently conducting feasibility surveys, and they hope to begin distributing produce boxes on campus by mid-November.

 Durham Tech Campus Harvest Food Pantry

SOTA food collection display at Fall Fest

With the grand opening scheduled for MLK Day in 2013, we have begun the work of collecting non-perishable food items for the Durham Tech Campus Harvest Food Pantry. While we are currently working on developing policies for distribution, we anticipate allowing students to visit the pantry weekly and giving them choice in the items they receive through use of a shopping voucher model. Our first major food drive for the pantry took place this week at our annual Fall Fest. The Student Senate sponsored a club competition, awarding prizes to the clubs that brought in the most items by weight. The drive was an incredible success, collecting approximately 860 pounds of food! Once we sort the items that were collected and assess needs for specific items, we will be placing bins around campus to collect food on an ongoing basis.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NC Campuses Against Hunger: A Call to Action to End Hunger Within Our Lifetime

Photo: Roger Winstead/NC State University
As a VISTA at Durham Technical Community College, I encounter students in crisis almost every day. While students are pursuing training or education to help them attain employment or transfer to a four-year institution, they are often performing a difficult balancing act between work and family commitments. Many live in chronic poverty and experience homelessness and food insecurity. Although we are developing programs to address these needs among our campus community, I often have to turn students seeking help away or refer them to outside agencies because our school struggles with inadequate resources. These complex problems require multifaceted solutions. Such was the topic of conversation on October 10-11, when representatives from campuses across North Carolina gathered to dialogue about what can be done to end hunger within our lifetime, examining systemic issues that must be addressed and discussing initiatives on campuses that fight food insecurity.
Systemic Issues That Must Be Addressed

Phil Gordon of Single Stop USA put it best when he said, "our students shouldn't have to choose between groceries and graduation." On Day 1 of the conference, representatives from NC colleges joined together to learn about the Single Stop model. This program, which connects clients with screening for social services, legal assistance, and financial counselors, has been implemented at community centers, including some community colleges, in seven states across the country. Although Single Stop does not currently serve North Carolina, attendees shared their experiences with the Benefit Bank of NC, which operates with a similar model on some NC community college campuses. Many are finding that our students, who juggle full schedules and often have difficulty navigating the complex bureaucracies of social welfare agencies and programs, can achieve greater success when resources are available at easy-to-access locations. In addition to services such as Benefit Bank, NC State University and Durham Technical Community College reported developing food pantries for students, faculty, and staff who are experiencing food insecurity and have difficulty accessing SNAP benefits or other community food resources due to eligibility requirements.
Attendees packaged 10,000 meals. Photo: Roger Winstead/NC State University

For the evening keynote on Day 1, David Lambert, an expert on global food security, reminded us that hunger is not only an issue affecting the success of our students and the health of our community – it is also a threat to the well-being of our nation. A study by the Sodexo Foundation found that hunger costs the United States an estimated $167 billion each year due to hunger-related illness, decreased worker productivity, and lower educational attainment. There is a direct correlation between food security and national security, as evidenced by the global food riots of 2008, yet our political will struggles to catch up with our core values. Quoting from the Book of Isaiah, Lambert called us to serve by saying “if you offer food to the hungry, your light will rise in the darkness.” The evening drew to a close with a meal packaging event with one of the event sponsors, Stop Hunger Now.

Initiating a Campus-Wide Effort

Photo: Roger Winstead/NC State University
Day 2 allowed attendees the opportunity to take a closer look at hunger-fighting programs on other campuses. Morning poster sessions showcased programs from schools like NC School of Science and Math, which holds an annual record-breaking food drive, and Meredith College, which expanded the Daisy Trade ReUse Store to include staple food items for students in need. The morning keynote by Dr. June Henton of Auburn University emphasized tackling global issues such as hunger as a valuable educational tool for students. Fighting hunger not only addresses a pressing human need, it prepares the next generation to be socially conscious leaders. Although not all the campuses present have the resources to form such incredible programming in the fight against hunger, the Auburn campus showcase emphasized that the community partnerships and educational opportunities created through college programs addressing hunger are often naturally aligned with an institution’s strategic educational goals. The following work sessions allowed campuses to share their existing programs and new ideas and collaborations.

Ray Buchanan, founder and international president of Stop Hunger Now, brought the conference to a close with a call to action. Moved by the vision of an end to hunger within our lifetime, he reminded all present that hunger is “an obscenity, a moral outrage.” Regardless of the current political or economic situation in our region or our schools, we all work in positions of privilege that come with the responsibility to do more to improve the lives of others. As we declared our commitments at our schools, we made the next steps in a continuing dialogue about hunger in our campuses, our state, our nation, and our world.

View more photos of the event

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mary Baldwin VISTA contributes to Apple Day service tradition

As part of Mary Baldwin College's annual Apple Day festivities on October 2, NC Campus Compact VISTA Leah Pallant helped organize students for a gleaning excursion to a farm near Strasburg, VA that collected nearly 4,000 pounds of apples to be donated to Washington, D.C.-area food banks. Leah also helped a team of students harvest remaining produce from the community garden to go to a local food bank in Stanton, VA. As a food security VISTA working with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Project Grows, Apple Day service is just one way Leah is helping to engage the Mary Baldwin community with food needs in her area.
VISTA Leah Pallant (green sweater) encourages volunteers to get digging!

Read more about this fun fall project and check out photos at MBC's site here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Duke's VISTA supports new Commercial Kitchen project

Jeri Beckens, the NC Campus Compact VISTA based at Duke University, is finding her way around Durham and especially the neighborhood surrounding the Community Family Life & Recreation Center at Lyon Park. A native of Sodus, NY, Jeri is used to navigating new places. She spent last year as a Fulbright Scholar English teaching assistant at a high school in Germany. She returned this summer to start her VISTA service.

CC: What previous work or volunteer experience led you to becoming a VISTA?

Jeri supports the Lyon Park commercial kitchen project.
JB: Well, I'm a life-long Girl Scout, so I have been involved in some kind of service since I was little. While I was a student at Nazareth College (in Rochester, NY), I was involved in several different service groups including our Partners for Learning program, and I organized a campus-wide day of service for our Senior Class that was really successful. I thought AmeriCorps made sense as a way to continue that kind of work. I didn't know much about food security issues, so this project is way for me to get educated as I help develop a new partnership. 

CC: Tell us about your work with the Community Family Life & Recreation Center at Lyon Park.
JB: I work out of the Lyon Park center two days a week, and the main focus of my VISTA project is the Commercial Kitchen. This is a big idea that has been in the works for years and many people have helped move the project along. I'm part of two committees that support the project, the fundraising committee and the programming committee, so I'm responsible for helping to organize some fundraising events and for helping the programming committee learn from community members what they want the commercial kitchen to offer.

CC: Let me stop you for a second. What's a commercial kitchen?
JB: A commercial kitchen is large-scale kitchen that can be used for community food preparation and serving. It has specialized equipment. At Lyon Park, the commercial kitchen is envisioned as a place for nutrition education and cooking classes, a place to make meals and snacks for the center's on-site programs like Head Start, after school, summer camps, and seniors' programs. It could also be a site to host community events or provide food for disaster relief, if necessary. Lyon Park is considered a food desert so residents don't have a lot of access to healthy, nutritious food, and the kitchen will provide greater access. 

CC: Okay, sorry to interrupt. You were saying...
JB: We have a big Pancake Breakfast fundraiser coming up Saturday, December 1, so I am doing organizing and outreach for that. I am also working with a Duke graduate student to design and administer a survey and to moderate focus groups to learn what community members want from the kitchen. Once we learn this information, I will start to help develop some programming options. I am attending a food forum this week in Greensboro with the director of the Family Life Center. I'm making sure that the Lyon Park is a site for all our Duke service day events, including Make A Difference Day on Saturday, October 27th. Duke students will be doing some painting and cleaning at the center. I'm also planning to make Lyon Park a service site for our alternative spring break, Dive Into Durham.

CC: Sounds like you are off to a great start. Before we finish up, can you tell us something unique about yourself?
JB: I like to color and really love Crayola color names. For example in this picture we have:
Baby Powder, Princess Perfume, Vivid Violet, Red Salsa, Smashed Pumpkin, Neon Carrot, Laser Lemon, Forest Green, Cosmic Cobalt, Winter Wizard, Outer Space, Mummy's Tomb, Timberwolf, and Leather Jacket.
Jeri as Vivid Violet at the Carnival festival in Cologne, Germany.