By Travis Gulbrandson
A lot of students at the University of South Dakota were wearing orange on Friday, but it wasn’t because Halloween is approaching.
The reason was that orange is the official color of hunger awareness, and Friday was Hunger Awareness Day.
It also was a way to help promote the annual Coyoteopoly Food Drive, pick-up for which took place Saturday, and found students collecting food items and monetary donations for the Vermillion Food Pantry.
“This is the biggest event that we do, and it’s the biggest event that the food pantry has, so they really depend on this,” said Catie Steier, vice president of education for Coyoteopoly.
As of press time, organizers collected 3,500 food items and raised $1,680, and Steier said in an e-mail Tuesday that donations were still coming in.
“The food pantry here has increased its number of patrons every year, and with the recent government cutbacks … and all those kinds of things, it’s getting worse, not better,” said associate professor Mark Yockey, faculty advisor for the food pantry project. “With this latest government cutback and the shutdown, all those commodities that normally get shipped (to the food pantry) didn’t get shipped, so they’re running pretty bare-boned right now.”
Steier said the pantry is already close to or has exceeded the number of meals it served all of last year.
The food drive is Coyoteopoly’s longest ongoing event, and now in addition to collecting food and money, it has an additional educational component.
“We decided a few years ago to expand the project to include hunger awareness, rather than just the food drive,” Yockey said. “We don’t think the people of Clay County – or anywhere in the US that matter – understand how many of us go hungry on a day-to-day basis.”
Approximately 25-30 percent of Clay County residents live below the poverty line, he said.
To help drive this point home, Steier organized an event that brought Coyoteopoly students into Jolley Elementary School, where they distributed information.
“We talked to every single student in the school about nutrition and hunger awareness,” she said. “Just being part of that was amazing.”
USD students also had a chance to learn up-close what it was like to experience hunger Friday, when they had the option of skipping a meal.
“We asked people to fast for one meal, and then donate the cost of that meal to the food pantry,” Yockey said. “So they get a little taste of what it’s like to be hungry … and then if they save $5 or $10, if they donate that to the food pantry, we create a win-win situation.”
Steier said fasting students also could donate the food they didn’t eat that meal to the food pantry, which is what she said she would be doing.
“From the looks of it, it’s going to be a lot of salad-type stuff, because I don’t eat meat,” she said. “So tomorrow when I come to the B-school, I will be bringing my donations with me, as well. I’m also have all my friends to it. …
“That’s one thing we’re getting a lot of response with from kids,” she said. “A lot of them want to help with it.”
Yockey said a lot of students use events like this as a time to get more involved with the community.
“A lot of people don’t understand that this generation coming up is actually more social- and civic-minded than any generation previously,” he said. “They volunteer more hours in their age group than any generation has ever done, so this is just right up their alley to be involved in something like this.”
On Friday, Yockey said he expected about 70-80 student volunteers to help with the Saturday pick-up.
“Some of those come from other classes in the business school, but a lot of them come from all across campus,” he said. “We try to get fraternities and sororities involved, the dorms are involved – it’s a campus-wide effort.”