Hunger is a silent problem and difficult to identify. It is not just an urban problem, and affects places like Pike County. In fact, it tends to hit rural areas even harder, considering its invisible nature. Almost 23 percent of Pike County residence are food insecure. According to Feeding America (2015), that is roughly 7,400 people. In an urban area, hunger and suffering tends to be associated with those on the street, begging for food and money. However, that is not the predominant face of hunger in the United States. Imagine, instead, the face of a child living in rural Alabama. This image is much more arresting as compared to how we think of the beggar on the street.
We, as citizens of Pike County and Alabama, cannot fix this problem instantaneously or whole-sale. However, we can lessen some peoples’ suffering now. The Office of Civic Engagement at Troy University is committed to many programs that focus on youth, education, and economic development. Out office houses an affiliate of the Campus Kitchen Project, a national organization with chapters on college and university campuses throughout the country. The Campus Kitchen at Troy University is a student-powered partnership between the Office of Civic Engagement and the Sodexo Dining Services. The purpose of the project is to take unused food and repackage it to assist Pike County individuals who are identified as food insecure.
The Campus Kitchen initiative includes a meal program and the Backpacks for Kids program. The hot meal program provides weekly meals to Pike County’s Head Start children. Backpacks for Kids offers supplemental, nonperishable food items for local children at both Head Start and the Boys and Girls Club. Over the past three years, our kitchen at Troy has served over 15,000 pounds of food and over 10,000 meals. We’ve packed thousands more Back Packs. We also have garden beds at The Boys and Girls Club, The Colley Center, and Troy Elementary School. We have done a nutrition camp at the Boys and Girls Club this past summer in conjunction with Publix and our sponsor CoBank. Further, we will begin nutrition and gardening classes for residents at the Colley Senior Center. These efforts have increased nutrition awareness, as well as filled some stomachs along the way.
Not only are our programs good for hungry people, it is good for Troy students and Troy University’s future success. Service learning and student success are connected in many ways. Research shows civic engagement and service learning programs are reaping both positive student and institutional results. Scholars in the field have shown empirically that civic engagement and service learning initiatives increase graduation rates of participating college students. Further, student participation in service projects is said to increase students’ academic and social integration on campus, leading to better chances of a student receiving a degree. Such participation can lead to a greater commitment to the university and increase the chances a freshman will graduate from the university first matriculated. Volunteering with organizations off campus also increases job prospects and networking opportunities for Troy students.
Not only are we helping students build skills through service, but our office is promoting a strong and mutual relationship with the community. These relationships lead to more students volunteering, donations to charity, and informally helping in the community. More and more we are connecting students to the community and promoting the habit of service.
This past summer, we took two students to Washington D.C. for the Campus Kitchen Project annual conference and we met with the staff of Representative Martha Roby, Senator Luther Strange, and Senator Richard Shelby. We shared with them the need for initiates that address rural hunger, and what we’ve been doing to address it here in Pike County. As respectable as that sounds, it is firmly up to us as citizens to make change in how we talk about food. Food should be a local concern, and we should first pursue local solutions to hunger and poor nutrition.
I started working at Troy in May 2017. As the new Coordinator of Civic Engagement, I hope to expand gardening efforts and access to fresh food in The City of Troy and Pike County. I want to increase our outreach in terms of gardening and nutrition education to all ages. I want children to know how to grow and cook food. If you or someone you know wants to support our efforts at the Office of Civic Engagement, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.