Grad students tackle hunger and raise thousands of dollars in the process
Wake Forest graduate students tackled food insecurity this semester, creating their own proposals for ending hunger and raising $20,000 to help feed those in need.
The Hunger Project was a part of the Action Learning Project course for Master of Arts in Management students in the School of Business. Twenty-eight teams created proposals to help solve the monumental problem of hunger in Forsyth County. The teams deemed to have the best proposals presented them on Dec. 4 before a panel of judges that included local nonprofit leaders.
Two of the teams proposed creating new nonprofits that would help enhance the work already being done by existing ones. The other two teams proposed nonprofit grocery stores in food deserts – areas where healthy, fresh food is not readily available.
The judges – Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina’s Nikki McCormick, Samaritan Ministries Executive Director Sonjia Kurosky, philanthropic consultant Karl Yena, Ernst & Young’s David Corrado, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools’ Lauren Richards and WFU’s Shelly Sizemore – were most impressed by the team of Tess Tidwell, Shea Akinboboye, Jeremy Bender, Charlie Chapman and David Roberts. Their winning proposal calls for the creation of the nonprofit “Oasis Valley” grocery store, where a paid manager would oversee volunteer employees at a market that offers affordable wares.
Though only a class project, Sizemore, WFU’s assistant director of Campus Life and Service, said ideas like the Oasis market are needed in communities throughout the city. Sizemore coordinates volunteer activities on campus, including Campus Kitchen, which uses surplus food from campus dining halls to prepare meals for local nonprofits, and is a member of the Forsyth County Health Department’s Be Healthy Coalition’s Corner Store Committee, whose aim is to place fresh produce at neighborhood corner stores.
She said studies show that healthier alternatives do well when they’re available and affordable.
“It’s not that people don’t want to eat healthy or don’t know what they should be eating, it’s more of an issue of not having access to those things at a price they can afford,” she said.
In addition to devising their proposals, the teams spent six weeks raising money for the Forsyth Backpack Program, which helps to fund the county’s 25 school-based backpack programs. Through the program, the Second Harvest Foodbank of Northwest NC and numerous community partners are able to send a backpack filled with food home with students who come from families who experience food insecurity. Students take the backpacks home on Fridays to enjoy the food over the weekend and return them to be refilled.
The teams raised $20,000, an amount that astonished Wake Forest Law Professor Barbara Lentz, who co-founded the Forsyth Backpack Program.
“I was actually speechless,” said Lentz. “I was overwhelmed by their effort and success.”
Lentz said the $20,000 will go to feeding 500 kids at Ward, Diggs-Latham, Mineral Springs, Ashley and Cook elementary schools during the upcoming holiday break.
Most teams sold bracelets and held other fundraisers to raise cash for the Forsyth Backpack Program. Natalie Sherman’s team took a different approach, using the crowd-funding web site GoFundMe to appeal to family and friends. The team raised $9,400 – more than any of the others.
“It was definitely exciting raising that much money, we never expected to reach over $8,000,” said Sherman. “…It’s definitely rewarding to say the least.”
Michelle Horton, director of experimental learning and leadership development, teaches the Action Learning Project. It was the first time the course had tackled a nonprofit theme; she said students rose to the occasion.
“It was beyond our wildest dreams,” she said. “…The students grew professionally but they also learned and developed personally.”
Horton said that the theoretical nonprofit projects will prepare students for next semester, when they’ll handle the “live ammunition” of creating real solutions-based projects for real companies like Johnson & Johnson and Pepsi. They will also be assisting local nonprofits, including the Forsyth Backpack Project, with their marketing and branding.