Westmoreland colleges compete in Food Bank Campus Challenge
A lot of things get thrown out of dorm rooms at the end of spring semester, but what concerned Brian Root was that food was going to waste.
So in 2009, Root, the assistant director of housing and residence life at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, worked with the Westmoreland County Food Bank to establish the annual Campus Challenge food drive that takes place during the last two weeks of the school year on area campuses.
“The first year, we had Pitt-Greensburg, St. Vincent (College) and Seton Hill (University) on board,” Root says. Westmoreland County Community College joined soon after and this year, for the first time, Penn State New Kensington also signed on.
“We want to take advantage of that move-out time,” Root says. “Students who are moving out have nonperishables that they don't have an interest in taking home, but that can still go to good use.”
Residence hall staffs and student organizations coordinate the drives at each school. They get the word out via posters and set up bins in strategic locations around campus.
At St. Vincent, they take it a step further with “Storm the Dorm,” says junior Cheyenne Dunbar, who coordinates the drive through the Alpha Lambda Delta honor society.
Dorm residents are told in advance when honor society members will be knocking on doors in all six residence halls to collect donations.
Dunbar says students often are waiting at their doors with bags of food and other items, such as clothing that will be given to needy families or the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Proximity to New Kensington and Arnold, which have several of the poorest census areas in Westmoreland County, factored into the Penn State campus joining the drive, says Corinne Coulson, assistant director of enrollment management and adviser to Lion Ambassadors, the campus community service organization in charge of their collection.
“This is a great way to help our county and local area directly,” Coulson says.
“This drive helps over 7,000 households feed their families throughout the next few months. The food is brought into the warehouse and sorted for food safety purposes and then repacked and sent out to our network of over 40 food pantries throughout Westmoreland County,” says Jennifer Miller, director of development for the food bank. “This donated food is added to a planned food box and is an extra added bonus to what they would be receiving.”
Root says that, in 2016, the friendly competition resulted in these food totals: Pitt-Greensburg, 1,180 pounds; Seton Hill, 915 pounds; St. Vincent, 399 pounds; and WCCC, 170 pounds.
“Since we started the Campus Challenge in 2009, Pitt-Greensburg has contributed 8,239 pounds of food to the Westmoreland County Food Bank,” Root says. “It's a simple concept, but we've been blown away by the response.”
“I told our resident directors this year that our main goal obviously is to get food to people who need it, but also to strive to be as successful as Pitt-Greensburg,” says Jenna Konyak, assistant director for residence life at Seton Hill. “The main value of Seton Hill University is service and giving back to the community, so the students have that instilled in them.”
“The students can gain the sense of knowing that because of their donation, no matter how big or how small, that a child will not have to know the anguish of hunger, will not have to know the fear of being food insecure,” Miller says. “Parents will not have to worry about how they are feeding their children, and they will be able to have proper nourishment themselves as well.
“With funding cuts coming at us from all different levels, food drives become an imperative part of what we do, especially this time of year.”