Southeast Missouri State University student Gabrione Kent has combined his passion for charitable work and entrepreneurship to help fight food insecurity on campus and in the local community.
Kent, a senior entrepreneurship major from Warrensburg, Illinois, created the One Meal A Week program as a way for students to donate their unused meal plan dollars to the Redhawk Food Pantry.
The idea for the program started as a class project to develop a business idea during the fall 2018 semester, Kent said. He knew he wanted to combine a business with charity, and reduce food waste.
“In my research, I found out how much waste there is on college campuses, and I felt that the best place to start would be here at Southeast,” he said. “I also found that students are wasting a lot of their meal plan funds. They’ll either not use them or buy, for example, 50 Gatorades at the end of each week, that then sit in their dorm rooms.”
With the support of Dr. Steven Stovall, assistant professor of management, Kent reached out to University officials and Chartwells Educational Dining Services to put his idea into action.
Every Friday and Saturday evening, Kent sets up collection tables at the University Center and Rowdy’s, located inside the Towers Complex. Students are able to use their extra meal plan funds to purchase nonperishable food items through the University’s dining services. Kent delivers those items to the Redhawk Food Pantry.
As of last November, One Meal A Week has raised nearly $10,000 in food donations since the program’s start.
“This is a great story about a current student doing well and demonstrating not only an entrepreneurial spirit, but a giving one as well,” said Stovall. “This is a truly positive reflection and the epitome of what we want to see from Southeast students.”
Because of his efforts, Kent was awarded Southeast’s Civic and Global Engagement Award as part of the Student Life and Leadership Awards program. The award recognizes those who see the moral, civic and global dimension of public and social issues, claim an appropriate measure of personal responsibility for addressing these issues, and have worked to make a difference in the civic life of our community through both political and non-political processes.
The support from students and the campus community for the program has been awe-inspiring, Kent said.
“People like to help people – even if they don’t know how to directly do that. When they see the opportunity to help, they always take it,” he said. “One Meal A Week provides that opportunity to help others.”
Last fall, a friend of Kent’s shared information about One Meal A Week on the public forum Reddit. The post amassed nearly 40,000 likes and 700 comments. The post garnered interest from across the country, with commenters reaching out to ask Kent how they can make food donations to those in need at Southeast. Others inquired about how to start a similar program at their institution.
“It’s good to see the best in people, and that’s what you see when people donate,” Kent said.
During the fall 2019 semester, One Meal A Week donations exceeded the needs of the Redhawk Food Pantry, and Kent was able to expand the program’s outreach to the local community, including New Madrid County R-1 School District and the Jackson School District’s Power Pack program which provides food and drinks to families in need.
Kent is currently working with Southeast’s Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority to continue One Meal A Week after he graduates in May.
He then hopes to help other institutions create their own One Meal A Week programs.
The experiences he’s gained at Southeast have given him the knowledge to organize, work with others and sustain entrepreneurial and charitable programs.
The most important part of any project is the passion you put into it, he said.
“It’s important to keep believing in what you’re doing,” he said.