Berea College Receives Grant to Expand Efforts to Combat Food Insecurity

By Elora Overbey, Grow Appalachia

Sullivan Foundation partner school Berea College has been spearheading an important effort to reduce childhood hunger in the Berea, Ky. area. Now it has received backing from the Cigna Foundation to work with local school systems and surrounding communities to help close nutrition gaps within and outside of the school environment.

Grow Appalachia, a strategic initiative of Berea College, has received a $30,000 grant from the Cigna Foundation as part of the grant program, Healthier Kids for Our Future. It’s a five-year, $25 million global initiative focused on improving the health and well-being of children made possible by Cigna and the Cigna Foundation.

Grow Appalachia’s Berea Kids Eat Program has worked directly in Berea since 2016 to fight childhood hunger, increase healthy food access and support community food resiliency. To date, the program has served more than 400,000 meals to youth while supporting health and wellness initiatives and food security programming for low-income communities.

“We’re really excited that Cigna has helped to fully braid together all the goals of Berea Kids Eat, which is not just about reducing food insecurity but also increasing healthy food access by building food skills at the household level for the future,” said Martina Leforce, coordinator of Berea Kids Eat.

Related: Berea College program serves thousands of free nutritious meals three days a week to children in need

Since its launch in 2019, Healthier Kids for Our Future has awarded more than $8 million in grants to nonprofit organizations working to reduce childhood hunger and improve youth mental health throughout the county. This program furthers Cigna’s commitment to addressing social determinants of health and eliminating barriers to care for all communities as part of its Building Equity and Equality Program.

Building on the strong foundation of existing community partnerships and strengths of local agencies, Berea Kids Eat has utilized funding from the Cigna Foundation to address food insecurity through four initiatives:

  • increasing healthy meal access to youth ages 18 and under
  • building household and community food resiliency
  • collecting and sharing best practices with partners
  • formalizing a community network committed to building local food security

Cherry tomatoes are bagged for distribution to families.

Since 2016, Berea Kids Eat has partnered with Berea Community School District to identify accessible summer meal sites in low-income neighborhoods. While BKE has established a mobile meals route to serve fresh meals directly in neighborhoods during the summer, these current and potential meal sites lack greenspace, weather protection, seating and handwashing facilities needed to effectively administer programming services.

Thanks to the support from Cigna, Berea Kids Eat and Berea Independent Schools have converted a retired school bus into the Berea Wellness Bus. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Berea Wellness Bus has been used weekly to transfer food directly from local vendors to area youth via meals and fresh food kits. When pandemic conditions allow, the bus visits low-income neighborhoods daily, to meet families where they are and serve fresh meals in a comfortable and engaging setting to youth ages 18 and under.

Moving forward, in partnership with Berea Community Schools, the bus will also serve as a distribution point for fresh produce, provide summer learning opportunities, serve as a mobile health screening clinic and offer enrichment programs to youth in low-income neighborhoods.

Related: Berry College partners with homeless shelter to train urban farmers

Berea Kids Eat aims to build long-term food resiliency with area youth through hands-on gardening, culinary experiences, and nutrition education. But many families experience barriers to opportunity access, including lack of available space or resources to grow food; limited knowledge or skills relating to culinary and garden practices; and time restrictions. To increase access, Berea Kids Eat is focusing on improving and expanding public gardens located at summer and afterschool meal locations such as the public library, public school and a local community garden situated in a low-income housing tract.

Funds will be used to construct culinary and pollinator demonstration gardens that incorporate youth programming with summer and afterschool meals. The pollination project is a part of the John Paul Mitchell Systems’ Peace, Love, and Butterflies Outdoor Education Center located at Glades Community Garden in Berea, Ky. Public education garden sites will serve as demonstration sites and venues for Berea Kids Eat to host best practices workshops designed for community outreach volunteers and institutional staff.

“We’re choosing to look at water and trees because we’re talking about long-term generational ecosystems… and also these perennial projects that are benefiting multiple generations and investing in projects that will have long-term benefits to the community,” Leforce said.

Berea Kids Eat packs garden kits for distribution to families facing food insecurity.

Funds will be used to support youth garden entrepreneurship at the local farmers market, provide garden-to-table cooking classes with summer meal service and after-school programming, and provide recipe cards with supplemental produce distributed with Weekend Backpack meals. These endeavors will allow kids to participate in hands-on activities that connect personal health and well-being with a fundamental understanding of nutrition and interest in healthy habits.

Berea Kids Eat will also use funds to provide hands-on garden and culinary workshops for partners committed to incorporating food and environmental education with classroom and out-of-school learning.

“The Healthier Kids for Our Future grant has allowed for us to look beyond just immediate hunger relief and incorporate nutrition programming into our meal service so that we’re not just looking at the immediate need, but also addressing future food skills with families,” Leforce said. “It’s not only provided us with an opportunity to dig a little bit deeper with the families we’re working with, but also to build a vision for a healthier Berea moving forward.”

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Berea College website.

Alabama, Auburn Students Join Forces To Help Food-Insecure Families

Two Sullivan Foundation partner schools—the University of Alabama (UA) and Auburn University—might be cross-state rivals, but they have teamed up to help combat food insecurity through the End Child Hunger in Alabama County Food Guide Project, a program that connects Alabama families in crisis with food resources in their communities.

UA’s School of Social Work is partnering with Auburn University’s Hunger Solutions Institute, (HSI), which launched the program recently, to raise awareness of important food resources around the state.

End Child Hunger in Alabama (ECHA) is a network of key state leaders, representing both public and private sectors, working together to end child hunger in the state. The County Food Guide Project is an extension of their mission, providing a centralized source of information to families experiencing food insecurity.

Related: Elon Musk’s brother wants to build “super farm” to address food insecurity

“After the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, our staff observed that, while many organizations were addressing food insecurity, there wasn’t a place that made families aware of the food resources available in their local communities,” said Malerie Goodman, a graduate research assistant with HSI.

So, with the help of organizations like Share Meals and the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College, a grant from AirTable, and the assistance of volunteers and strategic community partnerships, HSI developed the County Food Guide, an interactive map of Alabama counties, where users can click on a county for a list of food resources available in that area.

UA social work students, along with Auburn students, have been working as interns since the fall to populate the online database—which is housed on the ECHA website—with accurate and up-to-date information on food availability throughout Alabama.

(Photo by Vitolda Klein of Unsplash)

“I believe that the work we are doing is making a huge difference, providing people with information they may not be aware of,” said Talladega, Alabama, native Asia Suttle, a UA student in the Master of Social Work program and one of the interns (called county ambassadors).

“I’m excited to be a part of this initiative because I get to work with resources that will ensure children and their families have the opportunity to be fed,” added intern Kimberly Mitchell, a Mechanicsville, Virginia, native who is also in UA’s Master of Social Work program.

Related: This “DoGoodr” uses technology to feed the hungry and reduce food waste

The interns work remotely to reach out to grocery stores and other food facilities throughout Alabama, then document how the public can access food, who is eligible to receive services and when the resources are available.

“Thousands of website visitors have been able to locate food resources in their county since last June, thanks to the County Food Guide Project,” Goodman said. “HSI plans to continue maintenance of this resource in the foreseeable future and after the COVID-19 public health crisis ends, to ensure that individuals throughout our state can find food when they need it.”

HSI is currently working to expand accessibility to the County Food Guide Project with an automated text messaging and call-in system, allowing individuals without internet service, especially those in rural areas, to access the information.

For more information and to use the interactive resource map, visit the ECHA County Food Guide Project website.

This story has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of Alabama website.

Berea College Program Serves Thousands of Free Nutritious Meals Three Days a Week to Children in Need

A program operated by Sullivan Foundation partner school Berea College serves thousands of free meals to children in need every day, a much-needed service in the Berea, Ky. area where more than 30 percent of kids live in households below the poverty level.

Berea College and nonprofit Grow Appalachia partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Education to launch the Berea Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) in 2016. The program worked with Berea College Sodexo Dining Services to prepare and serve free breakfasts and lunches to youth age 18 and under during the summer months while school was out.

Related: President’s executive order will provide more federal aid for anti-hunger nonprofits

In 2018, Berea SFSP expanded to become Berea Kids Eat, a nutrition initiative that identifies and closes gaps that contribute to local food insecurity. The program became even more important when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Kentucky in March 2020 and public schools closed down. Children who had relied on the USDA’s school lunch program were suddenly going without essential meals, so BKE stepped in to fill the gap.

The program has proven vital since more than 80 percent of children enrolled in the Berea Community Schools system rely on free school breakfasts and lunches every day.

According to a story posted on LEX18.com, the program serves free meals—breakfast and lunch—every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and draws long lines of cars. The meals are provided by local restaurants and farmers and always include a protein, a vegetable, a fruit, a grain and milk.

“Basically, what we’re doing is, we are offering what would have been the equivalent of school lunch, just during the pandemic,” Berea Kids Eat Coordinator Martina Leforce told LEX18 in December. “We serve about 4,000 meals a day.”

The program, which has federal funding, doesn’t just benefit families and children facing food insecurity issues. It has pumped an estimated $700,000 back into the local economy because restaurants that have been struggling to stay afloat in the pandemic are reimbursed for the meals they prepare.

Related: University of Virginia pediatric team works to bring fresh, healthy foods to families in need 

Growers in the Berea area also benefit from the program, which uses local pork, chicken, eggs and other meats as well as various types of produce.

Martina Leforce

“It started off with me calling [local restaurants] and being, like, ‘This might be out of left field, but would you be able to deliver us 2,000 subs a day?’” Leforce said. “Every owner responded, and they were excited not just because it helps their businesses from having to close their doors, but they’re also able to help feed kids in the community.”

“Preparing food for Berea Kids Eat and Grow Appalachia has not only been a rewarding project, it has allowed us to purchase lots of meat and produce from local growers,” Katie Startzman, owner of a local eatery called Native Bagel, told WTVQ. “We have created a new position to assist with the production, which means we have brought another well-paying, high-quality service industry job to Berea. We are so grateful for the weekly orders as they have greatly insulated us from the COVID-related sharp downturn in our sales in what should be our busiest season. It truly feels like a win-win-win, and it is such a pleasure to work with an organization that has such a deep commitment to our local economy.”

WTVQ reported that, as of early December, Berea Kids Eat had served more than 312,880 meals to families in the area. “Food is a basic right and need for all the kids in our community,” LeForce told WTVQ. “That was true before the pandemic, during it, and it will be true after it. It’s all for families.”

President’s Executive Order Will Provide More Federal Aid for Anti-Hunger Nonprofits

Nonprofits and restaurants that work together to combat food insecurity got a boost recently from a new executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The order directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide more funds to support these partnerships, a move that will benefit both anti-hunger nonprofit groups and restaurants that have been struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Previously, FEMA has funded federally approved restaurant/nonprofit partnerships at a level of 75 percent, offsetting a large chunk of costs for free meal services offered to people in need. Biden’s order raises FEMA’s share of funds to 100 percent. That means the free meals provided by restaurants will be fully reimbursable, benefiting both for-profit foodservice businesses and nonprofit organizations like food banks, pantries and soup kitchens.

Related: Berry College partners with homeless shelters to train urban farmers

The executive order will make it easier for states and local governments to help nonprofits make more emergency food deliveries and feed more food-insecure children during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign website.

this photo shows two adorable little black girls enjoying a free meal from No Kid Hungry

Children enjoy a nutritious free meal provided by No Kid Hungry.

Biden signed the order after a bipartisan group in Congress introduced the FEED (FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries) Act, which is backed by Chef José Andrés and the global nonprofit World Central Kitchen. But since even bipartisan bills can take months to earn congressional approval, the Biden administration opted to speed things up, said Monica Gonzales, director of federal advocacy for No Kid Hungry, in a statement on the nonprofit’s website.

“The executive order means we don’t have to worry about whether or not the bill is going to languish in legislative limbo,” Gonzales said. “This measure brings forward every resource the government has to address this national hunger crisis and opens the door to innovative ways in which we can feed children.”

It can also save jobs in the restaurant industry, which has been crippled by the pandemic. Restaurants shed 2.5 million jobs in 2020 as shelter-at-home orders went into effect and many state and city governments shut down or limited dine-in service to stem the spread of the coronavirus. These job losses have exacerbated the food insecurity crisis.

Related: Canadian study suggests stereotypes about homeless people are wrong

World Central Kitchen works with restaurants to help feed underserved communities nationwide through its program, Restaurants for the People. The program reimburses restaurants for producing meals that get distributed to local people in need.

“The real key here is that every dollar that goes back into these restaurants ends up paying for staff, paying for the food coming from suppliers,” said Central World Kitchen CEO Nate Mook. “It keeps that economic engine going so that the business can keep running and [restaurant workers] can keep buying food so they don’t become food-insecure themselves.”

No Kid Hungry volunteers pack free meals for people facing food insecurity.

Douglass Williams, chef and owner of MIDA Restaurant in Boston, said the World Central Kitchen program helped his business at a difficult time during the pandemic last year. “We had to close down for about a month and a half,” he said. “Then this opportunity came along. It was a scary time, and everyone was just spinning.’”

Thanks to creating meals for the hungry through MIDA’s collaboration with World Central Kitchen, his staff was busy in the kitchen once more, Williams said. “Front-of-the-house people were cooking in the back and chopping vegetables and grabbing knives. It was a lovely, crazy and exciting time because everybody just wants to work, and we were also helping our own community,” he said.

Biden’s executive order will immediately free up additional government funds for tackling food insecurity, but state and local leaders have an important role to play, Gonzales noted. “It will be incumbent upon local agencies, cities, counties, governors [and] state agencies to work together with nonprofits and others to get those plans in front of FEMA and get them approved immediately.”

UVA Pediatric Team Works to Bring Fresh, Healthy Foods to Families in Need

The question, “What are you going to do in your community?” had been swirling in Dr. Jeffrey Gander’s mind ever since he attended a pediatric conference more than two years ago.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the answer came to him.

In November, Gander, a pediatric surgeon with University of Virginia Health, spearheaded the launch of a UVA food insecurity project, which partners with Local Food Hub’s Fresh Farmacy to bring regular deliveries of fresh produce to pediatric patients and in-need families.

Related: UVA faculty, alumni lead effort to combat food insecurity during pandemic

“All of us are in a profession to help people and care for people—a healing profession,” Gander said. “We owe it to our patients, as part of our care for them, to make sure that they have nutritious food. That may be even more powerful than some of their medications. Think about this fresh, healthy food as a way to treat their diseases.”

In the following Q&A with Whitelaw Reid of UVA’s Office of University Communications, Gander and Tegan Medico, a pediatric nutritionist at UVA Health, discussed how the program has been going.

Q: Dr. Gander, can you tell us about the “a-ha” moment you had at the conference in which you realized you needed to launch something like this for the community?

Gander: I had attended a conference at the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2018 and listened to several speakers talk about how physicians can have an impact on your community. One particular speaker was Adam Foss, an advocate for criminal justice reform, who really stood out to me. I was fortunate to attend a symposium led by him about six months later where he challenged everyone to find a problem in your community, find like-minded individuals who are working on it and work together.

I started to learn about the almost 20% incidence of food insecurity in Charlottesville, Va., and in particular how people had little access to fresh healthy food, given that it was so expensive.

At the beginning of COVID, I volunteered to deliver meals to students in an underserved community in Charlottesville through a not-for-profit called Cultivate Charlottesville. It was through them that I learned about a partner not-for-profit called Local Food Hub that was partnering with farmers in Virginia to bring healthy food to people who desperately needed it with their Fresh Farmacy program.

Q: Can you give us a snapshot of what childhood obesity looks like in this country and also here in Charlottesville? How big of a problem is it?

Gander: For childhood obesity, it is estimated to be 18% in the Blue Ridge Health District. I do see a fair number of obese teens in my surgery clinic. In speaking to some of them, they often talk about [how] most of their nutrition is from the school lunches, which are not always healthy.

Medico: Childhood obesity rates in the United States have been rising in a relatively consistent pattern over the past few decades. Most recent data shows that 18.5% of children ages 2 to 19 years met the clinical definition of obesity, which is based on body mass index at the 95th percentile or higher. In Virginia, the overall childhood obesity rate is slightly lower, at 13% for 10- to 17-year-olds as of 2018-19, based on data from the National Survey of Children’s Health.

When you break down this BMI data by family income, there is a clear relationship: the lower the family income, the higher the childhood obesity rate.

Dr. Jeffrey Gander (center), Dr. Amy Wrentmore (left) and pediatric nutritionist Tegan Medico (right) hope to expand the food program to every family throughout the UVA Health medical center who cannot afford fresh, healthy food. (Photo by Kay Taylor)

Q: How does your program work?

Gander: We are identifying families who are food-insecure through our Battle Building Pediatrics Clinic. One of our social workers, Lashanna Hicks, has a list of families that have responded “yes” to a two-question screening tool. We are hoping to expand this questionnaire to every family that has a clinic visit.

After the families are identified, they are asked if they would be willing to receive fresh food delivery to their house every other week. At that point, we contact Local Food Hub, and they work with their farmers and deliver a bag of produce, typically eight different foods.

Related: Wofford College makes free nutrition education resources available across South Carolina

Q: How has the program been going? What have been your takeaways so far? Does it feel gratifying to be helping the community like this?

Gander: So far, so good with the program. We have seven families that we have been delivering to. We initially were going to start in the spring, but when we recognized the urgent need, we started right away.

Medico: It has been remarkably smooth sailing. Charlottesville’s Local Food Hub deserves much credit here. We just gave them names and addresses, and they took care of the rest.

In fact, one of my biggest takeaways from the project thus far has been how easy it was to do something real, particularly by way of partnerships. While it might be somewhat new to UVA Children’s to focus on food insecurity broadly, it’s not new to many local organizations who are already doing this important work. They know that it starts on the ground.

As a single clinician or a single citizen, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a big, complex, societal-level problem like food justice. We can fall into the trap of asking, “How can we solve it all for everyone?” and overlook the validity of starting small, with our own neighbors. While the scope may be small, it is still significant.

Q: What are the long-term goals for the program?

Gander: Long-term, we would love to expand this to every family throughout the medical center who cannot afford fresh, healthy food. We are starting in Charlottesville, but as this program expands, would love to use it in other counties in the area.

Medico: We want the program to expand to reach more families and for the partnership with the Local Food Hub to be sustainable. That will require ongoing funding and probably some justification that a program like this not only is the right thing to do, but also supports the health and well-being of our patients. We hope to demonstrate as much.

We also recognize that the problem of food insecurity is much larger than we are capturing, so we are brainstorming about how to broaden screening efforts and ensure we don’t overburden community partners’ capacity.

Related: Lincoln-Memorial University medical student gives best friend a lifesaving Christmas gift

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Medico: Childhood obesity is a complex problem with overlapping dimensions. There isn’t one single cause. It’s a symptom of environmental and sociocultural shifts in response to changes in food production technology, food supply chains, agricultural policy, transportation, neighborhood design, technology and other factors. We cannot and should not blame children. Instead, we can and should work on creating environments in which they can be the healthiest and happiest versions of themselves.

A piece of this task is access to foods associated with good health outcomes, of course. Another important piece, however, is fostering a lifelong curiosity about food. What I love about this particular program is that children will be exposed to a wide variety of quality items. Each delivery will be a bit of a surprise.

Can food be good for you and fun? I may be biased as a dietitian, but I think definitely think so.

This article has been edited and condensed from the original version appearing on the University of Virginia website.

Berry College Partners With Homeless Shelter to Train Urban Farmers

By Reed Couch, Berry College

Berry College’s Department of Environmental Science and Studies is partnering with the Davies Homeless Shelters’ South Meadows Farm in a project funded by a pair of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants.

The Davies Shelters, located in Rome, Ga., recently received a $50,000 USDA grant to further expand its two-acre vegetable farm. The grant will fund urban farmer training programs and paid apprenticeships to residents of the shelter through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The training program will also leverage partnerships with Georgia Organics, the National Farmers Union and South Rome Redevelopment Corporation.

Related: Canadian study suggests stereotypes about homeless people are wrong

Associate Professor Brian Campbell, department chair of environmental science and studies at Berry College, will provide training and guidance for farmers. Campbell will also host a workshop for the farmers on agricultural biodiversity conservation, or the science of seed saving.

Meanwhile, Berry College’s environmental science and studies students will work alongside shelter residents in the gardens and farm to provide fresh produce for the shelters’ dinners.

In addition, the shelters’ Farm Bus program this fall received a three-year $212,000 grant from the USDA. The Farm Bus sells excess produce from its South Meadows farm and community gardens. The used school bus was retrofitted into a mobile market stand by Berry’s Creative Technologies program.

Berry College is a Sullivan Foundation partner school.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Berry College website.

LMU Students Lead Drive to Help Address Food Insecurity During the Holidays

Students at Lincoln Memorial University (LMU), a Sullivan Foundation partner school, honored Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (Nov. 15-22) with a canned food drive and a “Best Dressed” Thanksgiving meal box drive for Cooperative Christian Ministry (CCM) in Middlesboro, Ky.

“I wanted the students to learn the importance of giving back to their communities, especially during a time like this,” said Hannah Wilson, director of LMU’s Office of Student Leadership and Outreach. “Students embraced this with a lot of enthusiasm, and they did an amazing job at decorating the boxes. I am so proud of all of their hard work and willingness to give back.”

Related: Lincoln Memorial University student Victoria Orlando serves the sick and dying in nursing home

Organized by the Office of Student Leadership and Outreach, the drive led to students donating a total of 1,561 cans and 77 decorated meal boxes, which were delivered to CCM on Nov. 16. Each Thanksgiving meal box was designed with Thanksgiving-themed flair and stocked with all the essentials a family would need to prepare a meal on Thanksgiving Day. LMU’s Strategies for College Success classes donated 19 boxes, and a variety of clubs and organizations from across campus donated the rest.

“The amount of food and Thanksgiving boxes they donated is amazing,” said Eric Martin, CCM’s executive director. “This has been such an unusual year, and we have more families in need in our community than ever before. This donation will help many here in Middlesboro, and the creatively decorated boxes are sure to bring joy to the families who will receive them.”

Student volunteers decorated Thanksgiving meal boxes, which were donated to families facing food insecurity.

The Office of Student Leadership and Outreach chose Homelessness and Hunger Awareness as the theme for November events. Nearly 50 students participated in a unique Thanksgiving dinner on November 11 at LMU’s Cumberland Gap Convention Center. The hunger insecurity simulation allowed participants to experience what Thanksgiving would be like according to one’s socioeconomic status in the U.S. Each student received either a full Thanksgiving meal (upper class), a sandwich and drink (middle class), or bread and water (lower class), based on a random drawing when they arrived. Assistant Professor Joe Gill facilitated the event to encourage introspection and reflection.

“As a result of this event, students often feel thankful for all that they have and learn how food insecurity impacts our nation,” Wilson said.

Related: Winthrop University student uses National Guard position to serve children in need

Additionally, Marcus Stubbs, who earned his M.A.E. from Sullivan Foundation partner school Bellarmine University, delivered a Zoom presentation titled “Know Homelessness” to the LMU students. Stubbs shared his story of overcoming homelessness and stressed the need for college students to combat the stigma surrounding homelessness.

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness.

The National Coalition for the Homeless is a nationwide network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness; activists and advocates; community-based and faith-based service providers; and others committed to a single mission: To prevent and end homelessness while ensuring that the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights are protected.

The National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness (NSCAHH) organizes college students to end hunger and homelessness. NSCAHH educates, trains and engages students to use a variety of strategies to address these problems, including direct service, education and fundraising.

Cooperative Christian Ministry has been serving the Middlesboro community since 1979. CCM is supported by 17 local churches and individual donors and offers a food pantry and hygiene closet for families in need. Other services include a clothing closet, senior citizen food program, toys for children at Christmas, emergency relocation program, and a transient ministry to the homeless.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Lincoln Memorial University website.

Campbell University Volunteers Brighten Holidays for Dozens of Families in Need

Fifty-seven families and 151 children in Harnett County, N.C. had a happier Thanksgiving this year and can look forward to a fun Christmas, thanks to Sullivan Foundation partner school Campbell University’s 10th annual Community Christmas Store.

The store, created to help families struggling to make ends meet over the holidays, provides gifts to local children by working closely with community partners (such as churches and schools) to identify families in need of extra help.

Related: Campbell University joins Collegiate Hunger Challenge to combat food insecurity

Christmas Store participants purchased hundreds of gifts from an Amazon Christmas Store list, and various departments across the university collected items for food boxes. More than 100 Campbell faculty, staff and students volunteered their time and resources to wrap gifts and prepare food boxes, complete with Thanksgiving ham.

“I love being a part of the Christmas store committee,” said Kendra Hancock. “Although it looked a little different this year, we were still able to help those in our community.”

A volunteer with Campbell University’s Community Christmas Store prepares a holiday food box for a family in need.

Hancock and the committee, headed by Elaine Dawson, implemented an Amazon Wish List containing toys and gifts for children up to 14 years old. More than half of the gifts for nearly 60 families served came from the Amazon list, and enough food was collected to provide a traditional holiday meal for each family. The volunteers also staffed a drive-through in the Butler Chapel parking lot so that families could have their gifts and meals loaded into their cars.

Campus Minister Faithe Beam was very proud of the extra work the planning team took on to make a safe volunteering opportunity for everyone who wished to help serve the community. “Dawson provided strong, steady leadership in a year where the Christmas Store looked different than in years past,” said Beam.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Campbell University website.

University of the Cumberlands Ministry Helps Build Beds for Underprivileged Children

It’s often difficult for children to sleep on the night of Christmas Eve, but it’s even harder for those who don’t have beds to sleep in—a problem that’s more common than you might think.

Mountain Outreach (MO), a ministry hosted by Sullivan Foundation partner school University of the Cumberlands, is teaming up with the B Squad Project, a Williamsburg, Ky. nonprofit, to make Christmas a little more magical—and restful—for those underprivileged children in the local community.

Related: Canadian study proves stereotypes about homeless people are wrong

Each year since 2018, the B Squad has identified children who do not have beds and provided them with brand-new beds at Christmastime. This year, MO was able to provide funds and labor for 30 beds for the B Squad—a $3,600 donation. Construction on the beds is already underway.

The bed giveaway is part of an initiative the B Squad calls “Gutsy Gunner’s Sweet Dreams,” named in honor of Gunner Bowlin, a local boy. Even though Gunner has total intestinal aganglionosis, an extreme and rare form of Hirschsprung’s disease, and short bowel syndrome, he is always smiling and bringing joy to those around him. Hirschsprung’s disease is a condition that affects the large intestine (colon) and causes serious problems with bowel movements.

“The Sweet Dreams event is our favorite!” said Carol Smith, Gunner’s mom and a B Squad member. “The look on those children’s faces and the appreciation you see from the parents is priceless. Gunner loves the bed giveaway. He tells everyone he meets about it. Last year, he even helped paint some of the beds.”

this photo shows Gunner Bowlin, the inspiration for Gutsy Gunner's Sweet Dreams, in a superhero costume.

Gunner Bowlin, who inspired Gutsy Gunner’s Sweet Dreams, is a superhero in his own right.

Gunner spent four months in the hospital after he was born due to his health conditions. During that time, the community rallied around his family, praying for them and providing them with whatever support they needed. When the opportunity came for the family to be part of the B Squad’s efforts, Smith knew “without a doubt” that she wanted to “give back to the community that helped my family so much.”

“The first year we did it, people said we were crazy,” said Shannon Barman, who created the B Squad Project in 2018. “Nobody knew there was a need for beds. The second year, we had a list of kids waiting for us.”

Related: University of the Cumberlands’ board games drive brightens lives of homeless youths

The beds are branded with the words “Psalm 139:13-14” in memory of Barman’s grandmother, a devout Christian. Those verses read: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”

Barman said that kind of message would have been just what her grandmother wanted kids to remember.

Along with the new beds, the B Squad provides a new mattress, sheets, pillows, blankets and other presents, all of which they give to the children just before Christmas.

This is the third year the B Squad has hosted Gutsy Gunner’s Sweet Dreams. Including the 30 beds this year, the nonprofit will have given away 110 beds to children in Whitley County, Kentucky.

In 2018, Gutsy Gunner’s Sweet Dreams blessed 25 children with new beds, paying more than $300 for each bed to be constructed. Unable to continue paying that much, the B Squad approached MO in 2019 for help. The student volunteers at MO researched, designed and developed a construction plan for a sturdy twin bed that could be assembled easily and bunked if needed. And each bed could be built for approximately one-fourth of the 2018 cost. These savings allowed the B Squad to more than double the number of children they were able to give beds to in 2019. This year, not only is MO building the beds, they are funding them as well.

“We are very thankful to the Lord Jesus that He has provided a way for us to build and fund these beds for the B Squad Project,” said MO Director Rocky Brown. “For us, it is another avenue to help folks in need in our community and share the love of God with them. Additionally, in the process, we get to work with our work-study students and teach them how to provide the absolute best quality work we can.”

Barman called MO’s work a “godsend.”

“I cannot express my gratitude for MO. They have been amazing,” Barman said. “The beds are a brand-new design from last year, and we are absolutely in love with it. They added a bookshelf to the side so kids can step up into the beds easily if they’re bunked. We love it.”

The B Squad Project has built more than 100 beds for children in need since it was formed in 2018.

Construction has already begun on the beds for this Christmas season, starting in mid-October when Barman got a call from a family whose house had been condemned. The family needed to move out, but their two children would have nothing to sleep on. Barman called Brown and explained the situation. Before long, MO had two beds built and ready to go.

Related: Elon Musk’s brother wants to build “super farm” to address food insecurity

Barman mentioned that it’s been tough to bring in donations for any projects this year, since most of the B Squad’s fundraising efforts were going to be in-person events. Due to the pandemic, those events were canceled.

“Some of our children and friends have health issues, so even though we wanted to be able to raise funds, we had to be smart for our families and for our community and play it safe,” Barman said. “This year has been nuts, but we’re still trying to make things work. We want to help kids in our area.”

MO is supplying the beds, which is a huge help to the B Squad; however, the non-profit still needs mattresses for the beds and new pillows and bedding. They have created a wish list on Amazon from which people can purchase items. (View the wish list at https://amzn.to/3oycWNV.) Anyone can also donate to the program by using the PayPal link www.paypal.me/thebsquadproject or sending donations to P.O. Box 43 in Williamsburg, Kentucky.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of the Cumberlands website.

Cadets from The Citadel Provide Food for Hundreds of Veterans in Charleston, S.C.

America’s veterans served their countries in peacetime and in war, and students at The Citadel, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, returned the favor in a recent project for Soldiers’ Angels, a San Antonio-based nonprofit that provides aid, comfort and resources to active-duty service members and veterans.

Students in The Citadel Health Careers Society, joined by others from the college, spent a Friday morning in early October volunteering with Soldiers’ Angels, supplying low-income veteran families with food assistance.

Related: Cadet leader at The Citadel walks 24 hours straight to learn empathy with black Americans

About 250 low-income veterans from the Charleston, S.C. area were served, and each received about 70 pounds of food, including fresh fruit and vegetables, grains, frozen chicken, many varieties of frozen meals and canned goods, and drinks.

“We simply have the best at The Citadel, said Dr. Sarah Imam, a 2019 recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, the faculty administrator for the society and a professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance. “Not only did this group of cadets and students volunteer, they did so wholeheartedly and with enthusiasm. They interacted with the veterans, addressed them with courtesy, asked them about their branch and thanked them for their service.”

In total, 25 cadets, one veteran graduate student and three members of the faculty and staff were on site to help those heroes who are in need.

“I had students from across the school, from all majors—not just those that are pursuing a health career—who joined in with [the event] today,” Imam said. “These students genuinely care about our community and our veterans.”

The Citadel Health Careers Society is a student-led organization for cadets and students from any major who want to pursue a healthcare career. The society helps members become more competitive applicants for postgraduate studies.

The volunteers from The Citadel worked at the Elks Lodge in Charleston from 8 a.m.–12:30 p.m. on Friday, October 9.

Soldiers’ Angels has a global network of volunteers—representing all 50 states and 12 countries abroad—who work to ensure that those who serve or have served are supported, uplifted and remembered through a variety of support programs.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on The Citadel’s website.