Students collect canned goods during last year's food drive.
Every autumn, Lehigh’s Community Service Office discourages well-intentioned student groups from organizing food drives for local social service agencies since the agencies are frequently overwhelmed with donated food during the holiday season.
This year, the office is finding itself doing just the opposite as bare shelves in local food banks are signaling a potential emergency situation.
“I’ve never quite seen it this bad,” says Carolina Hernandez, director of Lehigh’s Community Service Office, which coordinates volunteer activities for the university community. “Between budget cuts for the social service agencies and the bad economy that is leaving fewer and fewer people in a position to donate food this year, the food banks are really hurting.”
And so, she learned, are the families the South Bethlehem Neighborhood Center (SBNC) serves.
“These families are deeply affected by the current economy. Our partners at the SBNC have seen a huge increase in the volume of clients in dire need of assistance,” she says.
To address the issue, the Community Service Office is teaming up with the university’s junior Inter-Fraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council to organize a food drive on campus to gather essential items for the food banks.
Junior Inter-Fraternity Council head Jim Paolini ’09 of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, said he was moved by the needs of the SBNC in the current economic climate.
Paolini and his group are helping to spread the word throughout campus, organizing food collections through all 26 Greek chapters, coordinating logistics of drop-off points and collection, delivering food to the SBNC, and collecting both monetary and food donations at local supermarkets through the last week of classes this semester.
“Given that the Greek Community represents nearly 40 percent of Lehigh undergraduates, we find ourselves in a great position to react to this need and help with this kind of university wide initiative, Paolini says. “By combining our efforts, we can make a substantial difference.”
Hernandez and Paolini are also joining forces with Roseann Corsi, public relations coordinator for athletics, and Karrie Dieser, marketing manager of Lehigh Dining Services, who coordinates the “Cans Across America” food drive each November.
“We deal with the South Bethlehem Neighborhood Center through our C.O.A.C.H. program (Community Outreach by Athletes Who Care About Helping), so we’re familiar with the families and their needs,” says Corsi. “When I recently spoke with the people there and heard how critical a situation it is, we thought we could all join together and really make a difference.”
This year, instead of “just putting boxes out and seeing what we bring in,” Corsi says, she reaching out to the entire campus community—academic and administrative departments, athletes, the Greek community and undergraduate and graduate students.
Each year, Dieser heads up the Sodexho initiative to challenge the Guinness World Record for pounds of food collected during a 24-hour period by a non-charitable organization. The department hosts a “Cans Across America” food drive, which typically benefits Feeding America (formerly known as Second Harvest).
This year, says Dieser, she contacted Sodexho’s national offices to see if they could direct the results of this competition to the local food bank instead.
“We thought this would be a great way to keep it local,” says Dieser. “The need here is so great, and we thought this presented us with an ideal way to help our neighbors during a time of critical need.”
In order to qualify for the Guinness challenges, canned goods and other non-perishables can still be collected at locations around campus from Monday, November 3, and then transported to one central location during a 12-hour period beginning 8 a.m. Wednesday, November 12.
“Everything has to be weighed and logged, in accordance with the rules set forth by the Guinness Book of World Records,” explains Dieser. “The next day, we’ll load it all up and get it over to the SBNC.”
Food donations will be accepted at various drop-off points around campus, including the lobby of lower UC (outside the Cort Student Restaurant), in Rathbone Hall, and at the Community Service Office in the Ulrich Student Center.
Items on the SBNC’s wish list include: canned fruit, soups, spaghetti sauce, pasta, cereal, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, canned spaghetti, canned milk, pancake mix, syrup, beans, rice and juice.
For more information on the food drive, or to volunteer, contact the Community Service office at (610) 758-6674. For information on the Lehigh Dining Services Guinness Challenge, contact Karrie Dieser at (610) 758-5032. Interested students can also contact Jim Paolini at email@example.com