Office of Volunteer Programs works to raise local hunger awareness

The University’s Office of Volunteer Programs worked to educate the University and Champaign-Urbana communities about local hunger issues during September, the Hunger Action Month.

The Office of Volunteer Programs held their sixth annual Cans Across the Quad event to combat hunger in Central Illinois, taking place Monday from 12 to 5 p.m. on the Quad.

Individuals and organizations were asked to contribute canned food products toward the goal of collecting 5,000 cans. The Eastern Illinois Food Bank will receive all donations.

Vaneitta Goines, Office of Volunteer Programs program adviser, said hunger is a hidden issue in the community. She said that many people may not be aware that one in five children in the area belong to food-insecure families. According to Feeding Illinois, in 2011 almost 33,000 people in Champaign County were considered food insecure.

Thirty-eight percent of these households and 34 percent of children in Illinois exceed federal poverty guidelines qualifying them for food assistance. Those individuals must rely on charities to feed themselves and their families.

“So that means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and one of the things we wanted to do was to give students a chance to make a difference but also help other students become aware of it,” Goines said.

Goines said hunger has multiple impacts, including on children’s ability to learn.

“When you’re talking abut children in particular, if a child is going to school and they’re hungry, they’re less likely to be able to concentrate on what they’re learning,” Goines said. “They’re less likely to be calm and pay attention or to be able to engage with the education that they’re receiving.”

She said if children are going without meals, their immune systems may be compromised and they may develop learning, physical and mental disabilities.

Megan Wills, a graduate student in Social Work, said hunger is a big issue and citizens should work together.

“I just thinks it’s our responsibility as citizens, as human beings, to help each other out,” Wills said. “I think that it’s one of those things where if everyone did a little bit, the problem would get a lot better, so I just wanted to do my part.”

British Nanton, an Office of Volunteer Programs student affairs intern and a senior in the college of LAS, said she has witnessed hunger in the past but was not able to help.

“I grew up seeing that there needed to be stuff to do, but no one in my age group or community rallied up to do something for it so the University allows me to do something I love best, and that’s giving back to the community,” Nanton said.

The Office of Volunteer Programs is hoping to bring the number of volunteers up and the amount of hunger down.

“If we all are working together, we can make a huge difference,” Goines said.

With a total of 2,500 cans last year, the office hopes to reach their 5,000 can goal.

Nyajai can be reached at [email protected]