Three University of Lynchburg students have sent thousands of meals home with Lynchburg-area children over the past year. Monday night, the City of Lynchburg recognized their work with the 2019 College Student of the Year Award.
Aisiah Duke ’19, Alexa Tarallo ’20, and Tori Ross ’19 are in the Bonner Leader Program, which involves volunteering at local nonprofits every week. Last fall, they got involved with Food for Thought, a program that provides healthy meals for children in need to take home from school.
Over this school year, the program has sent kids home with more than 7,700 bags of food, a total of about 54,000 meals. “We could not have done it without them,” Food for Thought founder Laura Bauer said of the Bonner Leaders. “They are role models, leaders, and good worker bees along with us.”
Bauer started Food for Thought last year as a way to consolidate “backpack” programs that send food home with students, and also expand the service to other schools. She connected with the students through Park View Community Mission, a site where many Bonner Leaders have volunteered. “One day, in the beginning of the school year the director of Parkview approached us and asked if we were interested in helping Laura Bauer start Food for Thought,” Duke said. “I knew it was something that I would love to be a part of.”
Duke, Tarallo, and Ross help in several ways. They collect food donations, manage inventory, document procedures, and help with research for grant applications. But the fun part of the job is leading volunteer groups as they sort food and pack it into bags. Each bag contains seven meals.
When they first started in the Fall of 2018, they prepared 150 bags of food at a time. By the end of that semester, the number of bags increased to 450 a week. It has continued to grow. Bauer said the record is 800 bags of food in one two-hour block.
The work has gotten Duke out of her comfort zone, but she said it helped her grow. “Working at Food for Thought has showed me that I am capable of doing things that I did not know I was capable of doing, or normally would be uncomfortable doing,” she said. “I remember one specific Saturday it was only me in charge and I had a group of 30 to 40 people to direct the entire afternoon with packing and doing other jobs in the warehouse.” She stuck with the task and did well, boosting her confidence.
The food they pack goes to students ranging from Head Start to high school. Although the Bonner Leaders don’t personally meet the students they are helping, they have heard that their work is making a difference.
While they were collecting donations at a grocery store recently, a teacher approached them to donate food. “She said she was a teacher at one of the schools we deliver to and that it is a wonderful thing we are doing,” Duke said. “She can see the impact it has on the kids.”
The work has inspired Ross. “Working at Food for Thought has confirmed that I love people with all my heart and solely being behind a desk in my future profession will not work,” she said. “I also have learned that working with those who are passionate about serving gives me a breath of fresh air.”
The College Student of the Year Award is part of the City’s new Lynchburg Neighborhood Recognition Awards Program. The University of Lynchburg students are three of four individuals who received the award Monday night.