Nutrition students beat ASU in food drive contest

Students, from left, Brandon Wykle, Mindy Toler, Erika Holub, Blake Cain and Brittany Padgett (front) celebrate success in a competitive food drive with Appalachian State University that yielded nearly 3,000 items to benefit Western North Carolina food pantries.

Students, from left, Brandon Wykle, Mindy Toler, Erika Holub, Blake Cain and Brittany Padgett (front) celebrate success in a competitive food drive with Appalachian State University that yielded nearly 3,000 items to benefit Western North Carolina food pantries.

A Western Carolina University pennant will hang in a classroom at rival institution Appalachian State University for the rest of the semester because WCU nutrition students won a food drive competition with ASU. Of course, the real winners are the families who will benefit from the nearly 3,000 total food items collected at both institutions for food pantries in Western North Carolina, said organizers.

April Tallant, assistant professor of health sciences at WCU, said students in her first-year personal nutrition seminar chose a food drive as their target=_blank_>service learning project after studying food insecurity, and she extended a food drive challenge in October to students in nutrition and health classes at ASU, Western Carolina’s Southern Conference rival.

The challenge – to see which university could collect the most food items per student in participating classes – was accepted.

“Our students were creative in how they collected food,” said Tallant.

WCU students partnered with two events – Haunted Moore (Hall) and an indoor triathlon at the Campus Recreation Center. Students helped advertise the events with fliers, recruited participants, volunteered as timers at the indoor triathlon, supervised food collection tables at the events and gave prizes to participants who brought the most food items to donate.

In addition, students such as Mindy Toler, a freshman from Forest City, went “trick-or-canning,” by going door-to-door in residential neighborhoods to ask for donations of non-perishable food. Toler also asked area grocery stores to contribute.

“This food drive is like none I have ever participated in because I have been more involved,” said Toler. “Competing against Appalachian was part of it, but knowing that I am making a difference in the community was an unexplainable feeling.”

Erika Holub, a freshman special education major from Concord, found a lot of support for the project among members of a campus leadership organization, and neighbors on her residence hall and in her home community.

“Carrying the cans up to Moore Hall was amusing, since the building is at the top of the mountain,” said Holub. “But I felt like a big help to my class and to Community Table (charitable organization in Sylva).”

At ASU, student participation in the contest earned extra credit, and donated food items had to meet healthy food criteria. Students collected donations from such places as a sorority hall, an office and, with permission, their parent’s cabinets.

By Friday, Nov. 14, students in participating WCU classes had collected 728 food items, including peanut butter, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, canned pineapple, breakfast bars, pasta and more. A day later, ASU conceded, but that didn’t stop students from both institutions from continuing to bring in dozens of donated food items.

As of Friday, Nov. 21, the day before the annual rivalry football game between the institutions, 159 ASU students had collected 635 food items – about four items per person, and 44 WCU students had collected 2,271 items – about 52 items per person.

“Even though both our total collection and our collection per student was less than WCU, we still have a huge pile of good food here – about 15 boxes – and it will help a lot of people in need,” said Marty Root, assistant professor of nutrition at ASU. “I’m very glad that we did the competition. We have done a good thing for our community and for the understanding of our students of the nutritional problems all around them.”