Sharing the bounty: Students lead multiple initiatives to reduce hunger

Sharing the bounty: Students lead multiple initiatives to reduce hunger

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Rowan softball players (from left) Grace Shukaitis, Rylee Lutz and April Laury gear up to give out fresh produce during Fresh For All, which provides fruits and vegetables to community members each Friday.

On almost every corner of Rowan University’s Glassboro campus, students are working to help address hunger throughout the community. Here are just a few of their stories.

Food Recovery Network

Katie Driscoll knows she’s making an impact, but not in a splashy, attention seeking sort of way. That’s how the senior biomedical engineering major prefers it.

Food recovery network“I get a lot of pride and satisfaction about making a community impact consistently and quietly,” said Driscoll, who, for the past four years, has volunteered with Rowan’s chapter of the Food Recovery Network. (At right, Driscoll packs up food trays with fellow volunteers Matt Beck, president of the Student Government Association, and Jorge Gonzalez-Palacios, a graduate assistant in the Office of Volunteerism & Community Engagement).

Every Wednesday and Friday, about eight students partner with staff at Gourmet Dining, the University’s food services provider, to recover cooked food that hasn’t been consumed in Rowan’s dining halls.

The students take full trays of food—as much as 100 pounds at a time—and transport it to community groups in need.

This semester alone, the Food Recovery Network has delivered 343 pounds of food, diligently packaged by Gourmet Dining employees, to two long-term care facilities in Gloucester County serving older adults and those with disabilities.

Since 2015, Rowan students have helped recover and donate more than 10,400 pounds of food. Thanks to the small-but-dedicated cadre of student volunteers, the Food Recovery Network has expanded from making recoveries every other week to, now, twice a week.

The work helps sustain the community and, also, the environment, said Driscoll, who is pursuing the Thomas N. Bantivoglio Honors Concentration in the Honors College as she eyes a career in medicine.

“This work has opened my eyes to how fundamentally flawed food waste is,” said Driscoll. “Food waste is the third largest contributor to global greenhouse emissions. So any food we recover is a win.”

Nationally, there are more than 180 Food Recovery Network chapters on campuses in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Rowan’s chapter is one of five university chapters in New Jersey.

The SHOP

There are students, Ashley Ferriere said, who think The SHOP is not for them. Not so, she said.

“There are many students who feel like there are others who need it more,” said Ferriere, a law and justice studies major who is undergraduate coordinator at The SHOP, Rowan’s food pantry and resource center for students in need.

“But I tell students, ‘If you feel like you need it, you need it.’ I’m very open about that.”

Founded in 2017 by students, The SHOP, located in Building 5 of Rowan Boulevard Apartments, is open Monday and Friday from noon-4 p.m. Any student facing food insecurity can visit The SHOP to access non-perishables, paper goods, personal care items, school supplies, clothing and fresh produce and milk. The SHOP is open to students with a valid Banner ID.

According to Becky Foster, coordinator of The SHOP, 20 student volunteers are assisting about 200 students weekly this semester.

The SHOP relies on donations and is in consistent need of toilet paper, paper towels, microwavable meals, toiletries, and individually wrapped snacks, such as granola and protein bars, according to Ferriere.

“Also, we get a lot of pasta, but we also need sauce. We get peanut butter, but we don’t always get jelly. So those items help as well,” said Ferriere, who wants to pursue law as a career.

The SHOP benefits from donation drives throughout the year, including SGA’s “Can the Van” event on Tuesday, Nov. 30, on the front patio of the Chamberlain Student Center from 12:45-3:30 p.m.

Additionally, area businesses such as Heritage's Dairy Stores and Acme, support The SHOP with donations of bread and sandwiches. The pantry partners with the South Jersey Dream Center, which takes donations from retail stores and delivers them to pantries in the area.

Last winter, The SHOP was renovated and two refrigerators and a freezer were added. But a $100,000 Hunger-Free Campus Grant from the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, secured earlier this fall, will eventually allow The SHOP to move to a new location and nearly double in size, according to Andrew Perrone, assistant director of Service Learning, Volunteerism & Community Engagement.

With the future expansion, The SHOP will offer additional resources, such as services provided by the Wellness Center and Financial Aid, to assist students in a more comprehensive way.

“This work has made me a lot more aware of what students go through,” said Ferriere, who stocks shelves, checks people in, does outreach, and plans events for The SHOP.

“My involvement has made me feel more part of the community here at Rowan,” Ferriere said. “I definitely think students are happy and proud that we have The SHOP. I’ve met some amazing people through this work…people who really care about what they do.”

Adopt A Family

Noelle Garcia was boxed in. Literally.

As coordinator of this year’s Adopt A Family, a longstanding Rowan tradition, Garcia kept track of bag and box loads full of everything a family would need to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

“It’s a lot of mashed potatoes, stuffing and rice,” Garcia said with a smile as she surveyed Room 144 of the Chamberlain Student Center, which was brimming with boxes of nonperishables donated by the Rowan community.

Altogether, Adopt A Family provided food items, plus gift cards for turkeys and fresh desserts, to 165 area families.

“We had about 75 different departments, teams, clubs and organizations support Adopt A Family this year,” said Garcia, a graduate assistant in the Office of Volunteerism & Community Engagement who is pursuing her master’s degree in counseling in educational settings.

To deliver the meals to families, the Office of Volunteerism & Community Engagement partnered with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Gloucester County, New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency, and Volunteers of America family shelters.

Extra food items were donated to The SHOP to assist students.

“Celebrating the holidays,” Garcia said simply, “can be more meaningful when we pay it forward.”

West Campus Farm

Farming isn’t just in Meena Young’s blood. It’s in her soul.

“Three of my four grandparents grew up on farms,” the senior biological sciences major said. “The first day I worked, I was taking soil and putting it into a gardening cup. At first, it didn’t seem like the plants were growing and then, all of a sudden, they exploded.”

Young is one of 11 students who, from April through November, worked on Rowan’s West Campus Farm alongside Rowan President Ali A. Houshmand and employee volunteers.

Altogether, more than 1,000 plants—17 varieties of fruits and vegetables—at the farm yielded nearly 11,000 pounds of produce. Students planted, tended, and handpicked the produce, which they then delivered to community organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of Gloucester County, Fresh For All, The SHOP, and the Samaritan Center of Glassboro.

“It’s a full circle experience,” said Young. “The first time we delivered the produce there was a real sense of pride. We saw where our efforts were going.”

Hot peppers grown at the farm, totaling more than 2,000 pounds, were saved to make Houshmand’s Hazardous Hot Sauce. Sales of the hot sauce, made from Houshmand’s own recipe, benefits Rowan’s Student Emergency Scholarship Fund.

That’s a source of pride, too, Young said.

“The more I get involved at Rowan, the more I love it even more,” said Young, who plans to join the Peace Corps. “Before I got involved, I didn’t realize the many different ways that the University gives back.”

Fresh for All

A line of 40 cars snaked around the parking lot near Coach Richard Wackar Stadium. Clicker counter in hand, Breanna Bryant was ready to assist. So were about 25 community volunteers—the majority of them Rowan students, faculty and staff—who braved the cold on a recent Friday morning to distribute fruits and vegetables to community members through Fresh For All, an initiative spearheaded by Philabundance.

Bryant, a junior sports communication and media major and first-year student coordinator of Fresh For All, greeted each vehicle in Parking Lot D off Carpenter Street and tallied up how many families needed produce. Volunteers then packed each car with the day’s offerings, which included, among other items, carrots, squash, bananas, onions, sweet potatoes, fresh green beans, and salad.

On average, about 160 community members use Fresh for All each week, according to Bryant. Some weeks, nearly 200 people have come by, she said.

“We see a lot of the same people every week,” Bryant said. “Students come as well. People pick up food not only for their families, but, also, for their parents and neighbors.”

The produce is distributed each Friday from 10-11 a.m. at no cost. Fresh for All is open to everyone. Identification is not required, but community members should bring their own bags or boxes.

Last year, Coach Kim Wilson’s Rowan softball team volunteered for the first time at Fresh for All. Bryant, who plays third base, has returned every Friday. Each week, as many as a half-dozen players work at Fresh For All alongside additional student and community volunteers, she said.

“Coach Wilson told us, ‘It’s our job to be here,’” Bryant said. “I love it. It reminds me how blessed we are.”