BU student efforts feed local residents

For immediate release: August 17, 2007

BLOOMSBURG — In Columbia County, where 11.5 percent of the population lives below poverty level, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania students have stepped up to the plate to make sure food is available for those in need.

A variety of volunteer efforts coordinated through BU’s SOLVE Office provide food to the Bloomsburg Food Cupboard and other organizations, said Tim Pelton, AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteer. Student efforts resulted in donations of approximately 10 tons of food and more than $10,000 in 2006-07.

The newest initiative is Food Recovery. Working with campus food service provider Aramark, students gather leftover food from campus dining establishments at the end of each day. Useable food, as much as 150 pounds each evening, is repackaged and dispersed through the Bloomsburg Food Cupboard and the Women’s Center. Columbia County’s monthly food distributions will be another outlet for the food beginning later this year.

Since the program started in October 2006, Pelton estimates about 8 tons of food has been recovered that otherwise would have been thrown away. Several other universities in the region are planning to start similar programs based on the BU model, he added.

BU students also are involved in the following efforts to fight hunger locally where, according to 2004 U.S. Census Bureau figures, more than one person in 10 lives below poverty level:

  • Donation of unused Flex funds. For the past seven years, students have donated leftover Flex dollars at the end of the spring semester. For 2006-07, unused Flex funds purchased $6,400-worth of food for the Bloomsburg Food Cupboard; over the program’s history, donations have totaled $44,000. Flex funds are a portion of the students' meal plans that can be used at campus dining outlets like cash from a debit card.
  • The annual Empty Bowls banquet. Held each April for the past five years, the on-campus hunger-awareness event raises about $4,000 annually for the Food Cupboard.
  • Food drives. Student volunteers have participated in two fall food drives for the past three years, Trick or Eat and Share the Harvest. As part of Trick or Eat, student volunteers place food collection boxes in local businesses each October, receiving donations of about a half ton of food for the Food Cupboard. Similarly, they collect another half ton of food in campus residence halls through Share the Harvest.
  • Hunters Sharing the Harvest. BU student volunteers handle local publicity for the state-run program, Hunters Sharing the Harvest. Pelton said hunters who do not plan to consume the game they kill are asked to donate the meat to designated processors who, last year, ground about 600 pounds of venison.
  • Souper Bowl of Caring. Building on a church-based food drive on Super Bowl Sunday, students placed collection jars in pizza and hoagie shops last January, raising several hundred dollars for the Food Cupboard, he said.
  • End-of-the-semester donations. Pelton said students leaving campus in May donate about a thousand pounds of food, rather than pack it and take it home. Smaller amounts are collected each December.

The Bloomsburg Food Cupboard, located at 329 Center St., is open Tuesdays from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. and Sundays from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. Sixty percent of the clients are from Bloomsburg, with the remaining 40 percent from nearby communities, including Danville, Millville and Catawissa. The Food Cupboard has served as many as 260 families in one day, Pelton added.

“The Food Cupboard started in 1996 and never has turned anyone away, even in the peak year of 2004-05,” Pelton said. “Nobody wants to see their neighbors go hungry. I believe deep down inside everyone would like to be a philanthropist.”

Bloomsburg University is one of 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The university serves approximately 8,000 students, offering comprehensive programs of study in the colleges of Professional Studies, Business, Liberal Arts and Science and Technology.