Troy University’s Hawkins Hall was one of the stops on the Anti-Hunger Tour presented by Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America.
TROY’s Office of Civic Engagement began partnering with Berg’s company in October of 2020.
“Our office really works to connect students with ways that they can serve in their local community and address community challenges and community issues,” Lauren Cochran, coordinator of the Office of Civic Engagement, said. “One of those issues is food insecurity.”
Hunger Free America is a nationwide anti-hunger advocacy and direct service organization that builds programs necessary to end hunger in America. It’s Berg’s 20th year in the organization, and he’s celebrating by doing what he does best: making a difference.
“I’m marking my 20th year by traveling to 20 to 24 states and over 8,000 miles, including here in Troy, Alabama, to really highlight how persistent the hunger problem is,” Berg said. “Also, to highlight great programs like VISTA.”
Berg made the decision to stop in Troy, Alabama because he says the programs “rarely get recognized.”
“Great programs, like those at Troy University here, often fly below the radar,” Berg said. “Coming to places like TROY that not a lot of national people visit, I think it’s really important for me to learn and be inspired, but also to thank people and say, ‘You’re not forgotten.’”
One way that Hunger Free America has partnered with TROY is by hosting AmeriCorps VISTA service members “who serve as capacity-builders to address food insecurity in the Troy community.”
“We’ve been so grateful for the placement of our AmeriCorps VISTAs during this time,” Cochran said. “These individuals serve with our office and add to our efforts going around the community.”
During the event, the Office of Civic Engagement also shed light on a new initiative to get students more involved in programs that can curb food insecurity and the lack of basic necessities.
The new program is called Student Advocates for Basic Needs (SAFBN).
“All we’re trying to do is connect students to resources on campus and off-campus that they may need during their time as a student here,” Keona Dejarnett, a graduate student and VISTA at TROY, said.
Resources include personal hygiene items, food, mental health programs, and health and wellness programs.
VISTAs have spent their summer making a difference by planting gardens with the Boys and Girls Club, providing water relay activities, and allowing young children within the community to connect with civic leaders such as local police officers and Mayor Jason Reeves.
“I just wanted to learn more about different ways that I could help my community,” Summer VISTA Tchanavia Toney said.
Companies and people in attendance included representatives from the Salvation Army, Sodexo, Publix and Associate Dean of Student Success Dr. Jonathan Cellon.
“We have palatial buildings and great amenities and programs, but we also have students that are not knowing where their next meal is going to come from or where they’re going to lay their head,” Cellon said. “That’s where the efforts of our AmeriCorps VISTAs as well as Lauren and the Office of Civic Engagement are really taking us and adding on to our programs to really address the food insecurity needs here on campus.”
Those interested in the office’s new initiative can follow SAFBN on Instagram @troysafbn. Those interested in Hunger Free America can find their information at hungerfreeamerica.org