CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., April 22, 2014 – Cheryl Garrett of Cape Girardeau is among a group of Southeast Missouri State University students who have provided about 2,000 meals to the homeless in the past year since the SEMO Food Alliance (SFA) was launched to help in the fight against hunger in the Cape Girardeau community.
“Students get to learn and people get fed,” said Dr. Gerri Goldman, Southeast assistant professor of social work, highlighting the benefits of the program.
Goldman helped launch the program at Southeast in spring 2013 when she issued a challenge to her macro practice class to come up with a project that would help a specific population.
The class researched and chose to address the issue of hunger. The students discovered that, in Cape Girardeau alone, there was a 14 percent “food insecurity” rate among adults and 21 percent among children, with an even higher amount in Scott City, Mo., where the numbers climb to 18 percent for adults and 22 percent for children. Food insecurity means that people are not sure from where their next meal will come.
Garrett, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in social work, was not part of the pilot program but joined the organization later. She became interested in the SEMO Food Alliance, a chapter of the Food Recovery Network, after she realized the importance of the program to the community.
The SEMO Food Alliance brings together local volunteers and charitable organizations to recover food that would otherwise be wasted and relocate it to local food banks. The SFA works closely with Chartwells, Southeast’s dining services provider, to meet the needs of the hungry in the community.
“I was really impressed with the project, and wanted to help volunteer during my last two semesters. I help to collect the food. The program fills a need for those who are hungry. Food insecurity is a real problem for the homeless and the working poor of the community,” Garrett said.
The SFA trains its student members and then they work in teams to recover the unused food from Chartwells dining services on campus. The food is then donated directly to the organizations that feed needy people in the community. The food is collected each Friday at 7 p.m. and currently, it is delivered to New Beginnings, a homeless shelter serving the Cape Girardeau community.
“There’s a huge need for food there, and they use it quickly,” Goldman said.
Since March 2013, the program has recovered 4,649 pounds of food from seven Southeast dining halls with the help of 20 volunteers.
“All the food we get is premade food, like the subs from the food court, salads, fruit and fruit cups, yogurt cups, pudding, Jello, chips, whatever is premade and prepackaged. Subway also contributes a lot of bread and their packaged items,” Goldman said. “It only takes about an hour to pick it up and drop it off.”
Garrett said, “This program is important to me because as an American, I see an awful amount of food being wasted every day. I believe that if more businesses would contribute to this program, more homeless and low income families can at least have a decent meal a day.”
Goldman says the program is serving an important community need.
“There is a pretty well established need for food here and while there are other ways to get food, like from the food bank, the need still exists,” she said. “If everyone who had unused food contributed in some way, we wouldn’t have a hunger problem. Solving the problem would take more than a class project, but it’s a beginning. It gave the students a chance to develop a project and pull it off, which they didn’t think would happen, and go from there. It has helped feed a lot of people. It worked so well it didn’t make sense not to sustain it.”
The SEMO Food Alliance is looking for new volunteers as it moves toward making this a self-sustainable project at the University, Goldman said.
“People who want to join just need to be dependable and have good interactional skills,” Goldman said.