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Alpha Gamma Delta fights hunger with food donation program

Alpha Gamma Delta sorority’s annual philanthropy week advocating for food insecurity continued Tuesday, hosting a “Meal Swipe” drive benefiting the Tiger Pantry in the U.C. Atrium, where students donated unused meals from their Tiger Den plans.

The president of Alpha Gamma Delta, junior integrative studies major Kacey Baker, said that fighting food insecurity remains one of the biggest challenges not only for students on campus at UofM, but also the greater Memphis community.

“Memphis is the hunger capital of the United States,” Baker said.

Several major national food banks ranked the city of Memphis among the most food-insecure in the nation, most notably, the Food Research Action Center, which in 2010 published a study concluding 26% of Memphians suffered from chronic food insecurity. The US Department of Agriculture broadly defines “food insecurity” as a “lack of available financial resources for food,” while stating that “hunger” refers to a personal, physical discomfort.

The dean of Students’ Office of Campus Outreach and Support oversees the Tigers Fight Hunger initiative, which includes the Tiger Food Pantry, which offers donated non-perishable foods and toiletries for any student in need, and the Tiger Den Meal Swipe program, which allows approved students a few hot meals from the Tiger Den on a short term basis. Food insecure students can apply online or go the Outreach and Support Office in the UC.

According to Baker, one of the best parts of the Tiger Pantry and Meal Swipe programs are the discretion, so that no student should go hungry for fear of embarrassment.

“One of the great things about the Tiger Pantry is that their services are always confidential,” Baker said.

Notwithstanding the greater city of Memphis’ struggle with hunger, The Dean of Student’s office estimates that, while about 350 students were served last semester, a 236% increase from the previous fall semester, thousands more students suffer from food insecurity. That’s where organizations like Alpha Gamma Delta are making a tangible difference, on their own campus, for their own classmates.

“The Tiger Food Pantry is such an important organization for us because it allows us to advocate for food security right here on campus,” Baker said.

The Dean of Students’ Office said these programs' continuation, availability and expansion rely almost exclusively on charitable donations, with the majority coming from the Memphis Food Bank and Chartwell Dining Services, the UofM’s primary caterer.

Allison Brown, Coordinator of Student Outreach and Support, said the charitable work of organizations like Alpha Gamma Delta and the food banks provide needy students with invaluable, short-term support. She also said her office’s duty is to educate at-risk students on general wellness and long term solutions, such as the federal entitlement program SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

“We know that many students who experience food insecurity may be experiencing other stressful events, and so we just want to check in with students to make sure there’s other general support we can offer, as well as connect them with more systemic support systems such as SNAP,” Brown said.

Junior Journalism Major Laura Rowland, an Alpha Gamma Delta member, said this year’s event was great, but imagines they may bolster donations even more by hosting next year’s drive in the Tiger Den cafeteria, so that more students with meal plans will be exposed.

“I’m so grateful we have the Tiger Food Pantry on campus, because it fits perfectly with our national philanthropy,” Rowland said. “And – on a side note—Thursday in the UC atrium, AGD’s ‘share the love’ event, where people can buy flowers before Valentine’s Day, will benefit St. Jude.”

Students interested in donating, or applying for assistance, can visit the Dean of Student’s website, or go in person to the University Center, Students can also follow “@UofMTigerPantry” on Twitter for relevant announcements.

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