Wristbands take community, Food Pantry to heart

In the past, Beacom School of Business student Josh Anderson has sold different items to earn money.

For two years he sold T-shirts over Dakota Days, followed by sunglasses the next year.

Josh Anderson, a student at the University of South Dakota’s Beacom School of Business, has embarked upon a project to sell wristbands reading, “I ‘Heart’ Verm.” Half the revenue generated will go toward the Vermillion Food Pantry. (Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

But now, he is selling wristbands that read, "I 'Heart' Verm," and half of the money generated will go to the Vermillion Food Pantry.

"Sometimes it almost feels like the community just kind of … sees the students as being here to abuse the town. This is just a way to change the view," Anderson said.

Steve Howe, executive director of the Vermillion Area Chamber & Development Company, agreed.

"Oftentimes you hear of some sort of a divide between the university and the community. There's that discussion of tenuous relationships between town and (school)," Howe said. "When Josh approached me, I thought, 'You know what? Those types of things are overblown. This shows that the students do feel at home here. They do like it here, they do want to make this a better community.' That's the feeling I got here."

Anderson ordered the wristbands back in November, but only started his push to sell them last month.

"I started with an order of 1,100, because the higher quantity I could get cheaper, so obviously that's more money for the food pantry," he said. "But if it takes off and there's more demand, it's an easy re-purchase."

The letters on each wristband are debossed, which means they are pressed into the band itself, rather than just painted on the surface.

"It's not like some cheap little thing," Anderson said. "You can sit here and rub all day, and you're not going to rub the ink off. That's one thing I wanted to do with these. … These are going to last quite a while."

Anderson kicked off his campaign to sell the wristbands with a presentation at Jan. 16's city council meeting. They can be purchased for $2 through him personally, and also are available at the Chamber.

"We do currently have them on sale here. And we've sold a few already, too," Howe said. "The feedback has been extremely positive."

Howe said the wristbands' community-centered message has caused many people to purchase them.

"Then when they hear the guy is trying to raise money for the food pantry, it's like, 'Oh, I'll take two,'" he said.

Mary Berglin, director of the Vermillion Food Pantry, said the donations are much-appreciated.

"We're always thankful for anybody who will raise money for us," she said.

Anderson said he chose the food pantry to be the beneficiary of his project after he worked with the organization as part of Coyoteopoly.

It was a good choice, Howe said.

"The amount of people that they're serving just keeps increasing," he said. "They're going to need more money, more donations, more involvement."

Berglin said the food pantry served 4,000 people last year, and had served 123 more from Jan. 2-6 this year.

"I'm waiting for my final stats to come through for January. I really don't know – we were up to 200-something a week or so ago, and I know they had a busy week last week," she said.

Last year was so busy that the pantry spent $28,000 purchasing items to give away, $11,500 of which went toward milk coupons customers use to buy dairy products.

That is on top of the many donations the pantry receives from local individuals, organizations and businesses.

Berglin said more than five tons of food was donated to the pantry from July through December by Wal-Mart.

Pizza Hut, Godfather's Pizza and Jones' Food Center also contributed, she said.

"I never knew it was that much," Berglin said. It was 10,000 pounds-plus. And we've done 3,000 pounds of pizza this past year. So that's another ton-plus. …

"It's a lot of food that we can make use of that used to be wasted. So I'm just so thankful, because we would never have served 4,000 people this year without all of that food that's been picked up," she said.

Anderson said he hopes he can sell all of the wristbands in one big push.

"The goal is to have them sold by the end of February, and to present a check to the food pantry at the beginning of March," he said.

In choosing to sell wristbands, Anderson said he wanted to create something tangible for people who donated to the food pantry, as well as to provide a positive image of the community.

"Vermillion is more than just a college town that changes the population every four years," he said in e-mail. "There are a lot of good people in Vermillion and the phrase on the band shows the pride that those who donate have for their city."

That's something Berglin knows first-hand.

"It's really wonderful how this town takes us to heart," she said.

For more information about Anderson's wristband project, visit the Vermillion Area Chamber & Development Company or call them at 624-5571.

For additional information about the Vermillion Food Pantry, visit http://www.vermillionfoodpantry.org/.

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