Rutgers students pack 22,080 meals for hungry families


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Photo by Yangeng Lin |

More than one million people in New Jersey lived in food-insecure households in 2012, according to Feeding America and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

On Monday night, students gathered from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the College Avenue Student Center to prepare 22,080 meals that were delivered to a local food bank. The collaborative effort to help aid the one in five families in New Jersey that are food insecure was sponsored by Rutgers Against Hunger, Meals of Hope and Rutgers Leaders.

Students worked in half hour shifts to give time to work and socialize at the volunteer event. 

Jordan Shyi, associate director for the Department of Leadership and Experiential Learning, said every choice was deliberate, from the supplies used to the atmosphere of the multi-purpose room.

Photo: Yangeng Lin

“Service doesn’t have to be the same type of experience,” he said. 

His department has worked hard to help students see service as fun. To foster Monday's unique up-beat environment, event planners hired a DJ and played music, Shyi said.

"Service is educational, but also thrilling,” he said. 

The night’s supplies were provided by Meals of Hope, an organization run out of Florida that sponsors meal-packing events across the country. So far they have packaged more than 28 million meals and Rutgers is proud to contribute 25,000 meals to that number, said Christopher Retzko, assistant secretary and University programs manager for Rutgers Against Hunger.

“Everyone can make a difference in someone else’s life,” Retzko said. 

When it comes to lowering the number of families that are food insecure in New Jersey, Retzko believes that involvement is key. He stressed the importance of their involvement.

The event was mostly advertised to students online, with the Facebook event page receiving more than 200 people marking they were “interested” in or “going” to the event. Some residence halls also sent notices over email to their students about the event.

Shreya Kumar, a Rutgers Business School first-year student, Aditi Master, a School of Environment and Biological Sciences first-year student and Sharon Liu, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, all said they were attending the event after seeing it on Facebook. 

The three also received an email notice they received from the Honors College, a new honors program, residence hall and living-learning community at the University that opened year.

The Honors College requires students to complete a certain number of service hours to complete the program and the Meal Packing Event was an opportunity to do so.

Master and Liu were also earning points for their respective Leadership Fellowships, a program offered to first-year students that encourages an active participation in the University community, run by Rutgers Leaders.

The First-Year Fellowship is designed to get first-year students more involved in the University with a two-part program that first involves earning points throughout the academic year by going to events and is followed by a series of workshops in the Spring, Shyi said.

The Meal Packing Extravaganza is one of the many events that students can participate in to earn points for their fellowships.

“We work with all of Rutgers — Res Life, Cultural Centers, Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, RUPA, everything — so it’s a very cross-collaborative opportunity,” Shyi said. “The whole idea is that students are prepared for everything that (Rutgers) has to offer in their following years (here).”

Jeremy Olivo, a School of Engineering junior, attended the event for the first time this year. He heard about it through the Leadership Office, where he is a leader for one of the Alternative Breaks leaving this spring. His fraternity, Lamda Theta Phi, also promoted it amongst its members.

“It’s a good opportunity to help those who need it,” Olivo said, regarding how the meals will help a large number of families in the community.

There will be many more ways for students to participate in University events this week — which is also being called Leadership Week — from meeting Brandon Stanton, founder of "Humans of New York," to Pop-Up Leadership Around the World.


Brittany Gibson

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