Students, faculty and staff at the University of the Cumberlands, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, set out to make sure no family in Whitley County, Ky., has to celebrate the holidays on an empty stomach.
For the university’s annual food drive, called Plates for a Purpose, the Cumberlands community donated 28,982 pounds of food and hygiene items to food pantries housed at the Williamsburg Independent School District; the Criminal Justice Program at the Corbin Area Technology Center; First Baptist Church (Williamsburg); Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church; and Shriners Church of Christ (Williamsburg).
“Watching food come in during Plates for a Purpose is always exciting to me. I can’t help but think of all the families who will be putting that food on their tables,” said Dr. Emily Coleman, provost at Cumberlands. “As a mom, I know how big the question, ‘What’s for dinner?’ is for families, especially kids. I’m thankful to everyone who donated to the food drive this year, helping ensure that every family in the community can answer that question with peace and confidence, knowing their pantry is full.”
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This year’s total is the second highest amount the university has ever collected during Plates for a Purpose. The university broke its previous record (28,874 in 2017) back in 2020, bringing in 30,557 pounds of food for local food banks. The food drive has collected a total of 81,303 pounds of food for local food pantries since 2019 alone.
This year, Cumberlands expanded its approach from bringing in solely food items. It also collected hygiene items, such as shampoo, soap and toothpaste. The revision was based on feedback from local family resource officers about the greatest needs for some of their students. Approximately 2,500 pounds of hygiene items were collected as part of the 28,982-pound total.
The university has hosted a food drive every fall since 2011. A few years ago, the school refined its approach. Instead of asking for food in general, they asked for specific types of food each week to help ensure that whole, balanced meals would be collected. Instead of food banks receiving thousands of pounds of food from only one food group, they saw a variety of foods roll in, including proteins, carbs, fruits, veggies, and dairy.
The new title for the food drive, Plates for a Purpose, was born from the recent rebranding. According to Dr. Coleman, the shift in focus has benefited the campus community.
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“Any act of service we do is meant to glorify God and to help others. Those are our goals,” she said. “We had noticed that too much of our focus had become simply donating as much food as possible instead of thinking about the families who would be putting that food on their plates. Rebranding the food drive has helped the Cumberlands community keep our focus on nourishing the people in our community. Ultimately, that is what matters.”
Some Cumberlands students got involved from afar, like one online student from Pineville, Ky. She wanted to contribute to Plates for a Purpose, but she knew she couldn’t get the food to Williamsburg, Ky. (where the university is located0, so she reached out to Dr. Coleman. When Coleman told her she could still be part of the food drive as long as she kept up with the total amount raised and provided photos, the student went right to work. She and others collected 121 cans of food and fruit cups for First Baptist Church in Pineville.
“It was heartwarming that a student who isn’t even on campus still wanted to be part of the food drive, and it’s great knowing the impact of Plates for a Purpose has gone beyond Whitley County into other areas,” said Coleman.
This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of the Cumberlands website.